My first inadvertent glimpse of the depraved “art” of dick-pic photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (1946 – 1989, selfie) occurred while Googling images using the search term “Sausalito,” a quaint seaside community across the bay from San Francisco.
While scrolling the first page of postcard-style scenery, I was unwittingly subjected to a stylized black-and-white photo of a hooded man urinating into another man’s mouth. The source of the scatalogical image, titled “Jim and Tom, Sausalito” (1977), is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) website. I would’ve guessed it was some hardcore fetish porn magazine for homosexuals.
I’m not going to force this filth on you the way Google and LACMA subversively forced it on me – and probably countless others. If you want to see what I’m talking about, simply click here.
Though I studied photography for a couple years in college, Mapplethorpe was an unknown name to me. (I wish it still were.) A cursory glance at his work revealed a collection of slick black-and-white photos of homosexual acts of grotesque degeneracy. A brief bio stated that, unsurprisingly, he died AIDS — a fitting end, I thought, and good riddance to bad rubbish.
Although Mapplethorpe is long dead, his perverted work won’t be buried. In fact, it’s being promoted.
‘Look at the Pictures’
In 2016, HBO premiered its original 90-minute documentary on Mapplethorpe called “Look at the Pictures.” Curious about the narrative HBO employed to justify this so-called “art,” I decided to watch it. Plus, after producing photography old-school style for 10 years and digital for 10, I understand intimately the complex aspects of the medium. Even when not enthralled with the subject matter, I can still appreciate the challenges and enjoy learning about technique.
That was not the case with this flick, because it was not about a photographer or photography. It’s a story about a morally bankrupt man who hated photography. He didn’t study it. He never even bothered to learn to process film or make prints. His interest was in fame, wealth and being viewed as an “artist,” and he exploited everyone and everything around him – even himself — in order to obtain that goal.
The following links provide a shortlist of Mapplethorpe’s depraved work: S&M, black mass, fisting, pissing into a glass, penises, rectums, satanism and awkwardly posed naked children. If you Google Mapplethorpe, you’ll also find, oddly enough, that he photographed flowers and celebrities. I won’t be displaying any of Mapplethorpe’s garbage on this website. Frankly, I don’t even like writing about him, but Winter Watch contributors believe it’s important to raise awareness about cultural rot and the weaponization of art.
According to HBO, the Mapplethorpe Foundation donated his massive collection of self-produced pornography to J. Paul Getty Museum and LACMA in 2011. The 120,000 images fill five vaults at The Getty. Its value was placed at $38 million (estate value est. $228 million). Both museums concurrently exhibit his work as “twin retrospectives,” though the museums’ curators admittedly “have trouble making a case for this.”
HBO goes on to describe Mapplethorpe’s work as one of the great controversies of the ‘90s and the artist himself as “demonized by conservative politicians.” Then we are shown his early life as a boy in middle-class America. He’s described in interviews as a “fuck up,” a thief and a “devilish guy” who was raised a Catholic.
At Pratt College, he dropped acid and used other drugs. His roommate said Mapplethorpe laced his cigarette with LSD and, as a result, completely lost his memory. He said Mapplethorpe was always trying to find a way to stand out from the rest and was often seen wearing a black top hat and black cape around campus. He also adopted a small monkey that would ride on his shoulder.
As a final project at Pratt, students were required to make a musical instrument out of bone. And what fortunate timing for Mapplethorpe when his monkey “suddenly died.” So he chopped off his head, boiled it and turned it in for his project, his roommate recalls.
Around this time, Mapplethorpe began his lifelong relationship with Patti Smith, a sexually androgynous woman who also was aspiring artist without any notable ability. They were described as a good couple because they were “respective of each other’s magic.”
After college, they lived together at an art colony in Chelsea – or rather, they lived like pigs and called it “art.” Mapplethorpe worked as a call boy (male prostitute) and stole gay porn magazines from which he would make “art” collages. He also got into fetish toys that he would craft into “art sculpture” – if that’s what you want to call a dildo protruding from a pair of leather pants.
Eventually, he begin shooting his own dick pics with a Polaroid camera and incorporating the snaps with his porno paper-doll cutouts. Voila! An “artist” was born! (puh-leez) Apparently, punk-rock poet girlfriend Patti didn’t care about Robert’s bisexual tendencies. The two were trying to make the social scene in Chelsea, and whatever it took to do so was encouraged. So Mapplethorpe collected boyfriends who were published models.
One male model/lover introduced him to Sam Wagstaff, an art collector and curator from a well-to-do, well-connected New York family. Wagstaff, who had a Polish wife, was also a closet homosexual. He and Mapplethorpe had a 15-year affair. Wagstaff provided Mapplethorpe with his resources (money, access to New York’s art world and celebrities), and Mapplethorpe provided Wagstaff with extreme sex and drugs. Suddenly Mapplethorpe was able to acquire high-end equipment, a real studio and staff to print and promote his work. With Wagstaff’s help, he had showings, recognition and eventual sales. For favorable reviews, Mapplethorpe would charm and sexually seduce art critics.
In time, Patti coaxed Mapplethorpe into photographing celebrities in order to diversify his portfolio’s “sex stuff.” He photographed Arnold Schwarzenegger, Brooke Shields, Sigourney Weaver, Susan Sarandon, Isabella Rossellini, Grace Jones, Deborah Harry, Iggy Pop, Peter Gabriel, Truman Capote, Susan Sontag, Carolina Herrera and Andy Warhol, among others. Warhol was said to have despised Mapplethorpe, and Mapplethorpe was jealous of the prices Warhol could command for his work.
But critics weren’t enamored with his non-“sex stuff” and labeled it pedestrian and “retrograde.”
Nonetheless, even after achieving a measure of success, Mapplethorpe continued to frequent New York’s underground, low-rent, homosexual night clubs known for orgies, S&M and scatological fetishes. As a routine, he would pick up a man, bring him back to his home studio, have sex with him, photograph him and show him the door.
He eventually developed a preference for black men, and it was said that later in life he slept with them and photographed them almost exclusively. He also befriended a homosexual former priest and exorcist. The two probably meshed well given that Mapplethorpe was a self-professed hardcore Luciferian.
“Satan to him was a convivial playmate,” the exorcist told HBO – but the cable network chose not to address this aspect of his life. Rather, references to devil worship and Satanism were delivered as tidbits of color offered by interviewees in this biography that elevates perversion to an art form. And not only did HBO choose not to explore Mapplethorpe’s satanic side, it completely ignored some of the even more despicable aspects of his life – if you can imagine such a thing.
David Berkowitz, The Process Church, a Snuff Film and an Unsolved Murder
Mapplethorpe has been tied by multiple sources to the “Son of Sam” serial killer David Berkowitz, The Process Church (a satanic cult offshoot of the Church of Scientology that gained fame for its ties to the Manson family) and the unsolved murder of photographer Ronald Sisman.
The story goes like this: On Halloween eve in 1981, police responded to reports of gunfire at an apartment in the Chelsea section of Manhattan. When they arrived at the third-floor duplex, police discovered the slayed bodies of Smith College student Elizabeth Platzman, 20, and photographer Ronald Sisman, 39.
A New York Times story from Nov. 2, 1981, states:
Both victims had been beaten severely and shot once in the back of their heads at close range, the police said. The apartment had been ransacked. …
Mr. Sisman operated two photography businesses at that address. The apartment’s furnishings had been torn apart, apparently by the killer or killers in a search for something, the spokesman said. All identification had been removed from the bodies of Miss Platzman and Mr. Sisman, he added.
Police are investigating the possibility that robbery was the motive for the double homicide. Authorities also raised the possibility that Mr. Sisman may have known his murderer, since there was no sign of forcible entry to the apartment.
According to various witness interviews, reports, books and authors, Berkowitz’s last murder in 1977 was allegedly filmed. Years after his killings, Berkowitz admitted to being a member of The Process Church. He said 12 members of the cult – and specifically the Carr family and son Sam Carr — was involved in some of the “Son of Sam” killings for which he took responsibility.
In the final Sam attack, the victims were selected because they were parked under a street light, which created optimal conditions for filming. Three people in a van a few feet away made a video recording, a snuff film of the attack, for sale underground, Terry reported.
A convicted bank robber named Jesse Turner, who once lived with Smith and Mapplethorpe, told Terry that Mapplethorpe knew about this tape. In fact, Turner said, Mapplethorpe asked him to arrange the killing of Ronald Sisman, the man who had the tape, which was filmed at the Process’ request. Sisman was murdered in 1981, and the two hit men recovered five snuff films from Sisman’s apartment, including the Son of Sam tape.
Turner said he was a good friend of Michael Carr, who supposedly pulled the trigger in the seventh of the eight Son of Sam shootings. About halfway into the killings, Turner told Terry that he learned “the Process was behind Son of Sam. They called it one of their ‘Apocalyptic Trials,’ which meant a major display of public violence.”
But enough about Mapplethorpe, who’s now just a worm-eaten corpse. What matters today, right now, is messaging.
In the ‘90s, there was some political push back to Mapplethorpe’s work by the conservative wing in Washington, D.C. and in particular Senator Jesse Helms, the American Family Association and Citizens for Community Values on the grounds of obscenity. A museum ended up in court for exhibiting Mapplethorpe’s photos, and the museum won. [A thorough yet Pervert Justice Warrior-biased article on the case may be viewed here.]
After that, Mapplethorpe’s bogus “art” seemed to disappear from public view until around 2014, which marked the 25th anniversary of his death. What opportune timing for a retrospective, just as the media unleashed an unprecedented wave of homosexual and transgender propaganda on the American public in a manner similar to post-WWI Weimar Berlin.
On a denotative level, Mapplethorpe’s art represents sexual exploitation in its rawest form regardless of orientation. Then and now, certain groups within society that want to normalize human exploitation will employ “art” such as Mapplethorpe’s as a vehicle to bring about cultural and moral decay.
On a connotative level, there’s a dangerous message here, especially for aspiring photographers and artists. The message is that success is not about God-given talent or the inherent artistic value of thoughtful work. Rather, to be revered and successful, one must constantly find new ways to lower the bar. One must be willing to exploit everyone and everything around them — even if it means killing your pet monkey and prostituting yourself to homosexuals.
But most importantly, it encourages struggling young artists to find sugar daddies or mommies with wealth and social connections, and to let that elite figure sexually exploit them in exchange for access to their capital and connections. What sad social commentary, truly. One wonders how many Mapplethorpe wannabees are loose upon the land.
It should noted that during the Cold War, the CIA used modern art as a weapon. Starting in the ’50s, the agency secretly funded and flaunted modern artists such as Pollock and de Kooning to a global audience as proof of America’s creative and intellectual freedom, as opposed to communist Russia’s ideological constraints.
In this light, the question begs: Is it possible that the CIA is running the same type of program with post-modern art to juxtapose Islamist values and perhaps even inflame Muslim rage toward the West? It’s something to think about, certainly.
In close, it should also be noted that the “Look at the Pictures” — a not-for-prime-time documentary that should be (at minimum) rated NC-17 — received the Prime Time Emmy Award for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special. It was produced and directed by filmmakers Randy Barbato and Fenton Baily, whose film and television production roster includes “Party Monster,” “Inside Deep Throat,” “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and “The Secret Rulers of the World.”