Robert Mapplethorpe (2016)

Editor: Kathleen Massara

In the polished (if not predictable) fashion that we’ve come to expect of HBO documentaries like “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present,” which provide an uncomplicated form of subject worship, “Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures” offers up a clean and heavily corroborated historical presentation of the artist’s life and work.

On a recent Tuesday evening at the Time Warner Center in New York, producer-directors Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey revealed at an advanced screening that over fifty interviews with friends, family, and collaborators were conducted for the film. 

It’s hard not to read this number as an almost defensive posture, however. Was it a precursory apology to fans? After all, the artist’s legacy is as tenacious as it is due in no small part to its ties with a painful, albeit not-so-distant event in American history: the AIDS crisis.

The documentary positions Mapplethorpe as a gay icon with an opening clip of Jesse Helms, then-Republican senator of North Carolina. Months after Mapplethorpe’s death in 1989, a full-scale show of his works scheduled to hit DC’s Corcoran gallery sparked a national conversation about the government’s financial involvement in the arts.

Read the full review on artnet News.