New York Celebrates The Whitney’s One-Year Anniversary in Lower Manhattan

Photos Courtesy: BFA/Zach Hilty

After leaving its longtime Upper East Side home in 2014, New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art relocated and reopened to Lower Manhattan in May of last year. Following a successful 365-day run in its new Meatpacking District home, the venerated Museum celebrated its one-year anniversary last night with a Studio Party, presented by Louis Vuitton.

The evening event honored Robert J. Hurst, who led the Whitney’s Board of Trustees throughout the Museum’s construction as the chair of the capital campaign. To commemorate Hurst, the Museum’s first floor filled with special guests—iconic photorealist Chuck Close, among them—as everyone sipped custom cocktails and enjoyed small bites.

Zen Freeman and Chelsea Leyland delivered DJ sets, as the crowd lounged in spaces designed by international furniture brand Roche Bobois and received temporary tattoos by Flatlands exhibition artists Nina Chanel Abney, Mathew Cerletty and Jamian Juliano-Villain, as well as Mirror Cells exhibition artists Liz Craft, Elizabeth Jaeger and Maggie Lee.

The Whitney Museum celebrates: the 2016 Annual Art Gala and Studio Party

The Whitney Museum celebrates: the 2016 Annual Art Gala and Studio Party

The Whitney Museum celebrates: the 2016 Annual Art Gala and Studio Party

The Whitney Museum celebrates: the 2016 Annual Art Gala and Studio Party

The Whitney Museum celebrates: the 2016 Annual Art Gala and Studio Party

The Whitney Museum celebrates: the 2016 Annual Art Gala and Studio Party

The Whitney Museum celebrates: the 2016 Annual Art Gala and Studio Party

The Whitney Museum celebrates: the 2016 Annual Art Gala and Studio Party

The Whitney Museum celebrates: the 2016 Annual Art Gala and Studio Party

The Whitney Museum celebrates: the 2016 Annual Art Gala and Studio Party

The New Whitney Museum as Social Network: Musings on Building, Crowd, and Views

Mark standing in front of Chuck Close’s Phil

If art is the lie that tells the truth, then there is something gorgeous about the new Whitney, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of revelation, as if it were related to an intricate algorithm that registers expression ten thousand miles away.

Renzo Piano has long responded to the vital moments when culture declares the inside out and the outside in, the uptown down and the downtown up. Perhaps more than any other architect, he has ably detected the nascent beats of emerging times and interpreted them as frozen music. Unfortunately, truly perceptive feats of association often linger unacclaimed until what has been made finally becomes music to everyone’s ears.



Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times cleverly covers his paper’s tracks and leaves a trail of pebbles for later day backsies by saying that “buildings take time to reveal their true selves.” Nevertheless, he is determined enough to presently take the stance (presumably from a desk inside a Piano masterpiece) that “the new museum isn’t a masterpiece.”

And that’s nothing compared to what Justin Davidson does. The New York Magazine’s architecture critic slams the Whitney, barely stopping short of suggesting that it should be torn down and that the sanitation department next door should throw this baby out into its Hudson River bathwater.

We’re not exaggerating. Davidson bullies the newborn building. Big time.

He kicks off his scathing review with a swift Red Hook: “There’s nothing seamless about this awkward kit of protruding parts and tilting surfaces, though: The thing might have arrived in an Ikea flat pack and then been prodigiously misassembled.”


But what appears to anger him most (and, to be fair, many other old school critics who are too timid to say so) is precisely what we find so perceptive in this building: Piano’s sense that, in this mobile and social phase of the digital age, a museum must do more than provide a secluded space for “an intense communion with art.” Through his Whitney, Piano has voiced the position that museums may no longer (query if they ever did) simply serve as sanctified loci for unbroken sequences of successful bidirectional encounters between solemnly spectating subjects and serious aesthetic objects.

Piano plays this theme out with the Whitney’s sheer permeability. And it’s not just the civic permeability that Davidson mocks as the “panoramic version of an audio guide. Made right here!” Perhaps more importantly, it’s the social and natural and technological permeability, the spectacular permeability of digi-social personhood, of “social life, urbanity, invention, construction, technology, poetry, light–an immense rich bouillabaisse,” as Piano told the New Yorker; or, as a situationist quoting Guy Debord might aver, “the social relationship between people that is mediated by images”; or, as Kevin Systrom might snap, “Instagram!”


Davidson derides Piano for architecting a building that concedes the point that, in this age of infinite distraction, museum guests may grow bored when confronted with nothing but art, for hours on end, and that those guests may need to “rest,” by perhaps doing a bit of people watching, checking a mobile feed or fifteen, ripping a selfie, or gazing out onto what really is a killer view. Oh no, Davidson’s not going to let Piano get away with even a momentary sleight of sight; he ferociously pins Piano down to one of the his distractingly transparent walls and tunes him up with the charge that “The new Whitney is a wonderful place for people who get easily bored by art.”

Not to get all Millennial, but who doesn’t get bored by endless hours of nothing but art? Newsflash: it’s not just art. We’re all bored by lengthy, logically progressing sequentiality. We’re bored by long emails, long articles (like this one), long arguments, long essays, long speeches, long books, long plays, long stories, and, yes, long sentences. #BecauseInternet.

But our new state of omnipresent boredom is not the antithesis of engagement; it acts as the precondition for and the genesis of new (or newly prominent) forms of engagement: cacophonous, polymorphous, rhizomatic, dispersed, chaotic, dialogic, and perspectival engagement. Do you know what we find engaging, even for long stretches of time? The simultaneity, surprise, sensation and serendipity we discover in whole new worlds — and that’s why we’re addicted to social networks. And that’s why we love the Whitney’s world.

Long before the Internet, Saul Steinberg, the cartoonist whose Manhattan-centric wit partially inspired the building even happened to argue that boredom and creativity go hand in hand, “The life of the creative man is lead, directed and controlled by boredom. Avoiding boredom is one of our most important purposes.”

So we refuse to let Davidson and his pre-digital critical tribe pressure us into pretending that we don’t wonder what kind of cell phone signal we’d get in his “medieval room at the Met,” or that Breuer’s brutalism beams us “from the actual world into the [Wonkaesque world of pure] imagination.”

We’re not about to filter our gaze and muffle our ears to what Piano, his partners Mark Carroll, Elisabetta Trezzani, and the entire RPBW team have accomplished with this blessed new Whitney. We’re not about to qualify our superlative assessment. Perhaps because we’re impatient, we refuse to wait the years that Kimmelman claims a building needs to “reveal itself.” We refuse to wait a moment longer.

Though this may be hard to hear, we wish to hereby declare that the new Whitney is an unqualified masterpiece. Effective immediately.


It’s not like we just got out hair done at Sally Hershberger by the amazing Travis, splurged on some Junya at Jeffrey, had a blast at the opening party with Sarah Jessica Parker and Dakota Fanning (who glowed in the sunset-lit galleries like a little angel in all-white Max Mara), stared at Solange like she was an exotic bird, tried to party with Betsey Johnson like it was the 80s, attempted to talk about the Diving Bell and the Butterfly with Julian Schnabel, and then cracked open iA Writer over tinis and lobster at Perry Street and declared this museum a masterpiece.


Sarah Jessica Parker. Photo:

Dakota Fanning. Photo:

Solange. Photo:

Betsey Johnson. Photo:

Julian Schnabel. Photo:

Well, yeah, ok, we did do all that, but then we, like, woke up the next day and developed a thesis — and we will indeed argue it persuasively, logically and sequentially, Mr. Davidson (even as we admit that, yes, it may bore the bejesus out of many intelligent people in our generation who will close out of this screen, skip our polemics, and do something more engaging with their time, for which we refuse to blame them).

The new Whitney is not merely a museum. It is a new model for a museum: the museum as social network (#MSN). The #MSNWhitney, owing to the focus of its world, happens to be connected to asking and responding to the question of what is American Art (to paraphrase and co-opt Whitney’s chief curator Donna De Salvo). But the concept of an #MSN is bigger than any one question or any one museum world. It is the plausible now of the museum as such. It is the museum as the simultaneous experience of worlding.

When the Whitney last moved from downtown, uptown to Breuerville in 1966, Foucault had just finished The Order of Things. 2015 marks another watershed moment in the history of visible thought: Piano, who, lest we forget, put Lyotard’s postmodern condition on display in the Marais, is playing with us in a whole new way.


Jerry Saltz wants to agree with us, even though his colleague, Justin Davidson, is our beloved building’s biggest bully. We heart Jerry Saltz almost as much as we hate the word “hermeneutics,” so it would mean so much to us if he took our side. And he’s already come out as a huge fan of new Whitney (though he punts on matters of architectural worth to Justin Davidson), but we believe that we can persuade him because we share the Saltzian conceptual analogy about how art is best experienced.

Saltz sees art as a synchronic, polyphonic conversation, whose rightful participants are the artists, the artworks, the characters and forces emerging from those artworks, the curators who dramaturgically stage and shape the whole shebang, and, of course, the visitors who — for 22 bucks a pop — get to step right up with their own curious worlds hanging out in full relief.

And that’s why Saltz dislikes the all those museumed screeches of starchitectural hubris. It’s so hard to hear what the art is saying when your venue keeps screaming its name like Daryl Hannah in Splash (and that’s true irrespective of whether teeming droves will pay a fee to see the mermaid). Naturally, Saltz dislikes the MoMA redesign because it privileges empty event space over additional evocative artworks. And he mocks the Stellaphilic conch Gehry has built in Bilbao, because it’s a place lacking in other rooms where other voices of art may properly converse.

Saltz sees the new Whitney as brilliant in its unobtrusive humility and spaciousness, but we wish to persuade him that it is in fact the manifestation of a profound new insight about how to frame the artversation in the mobile phase of the digital age, how to frame the world of art amidst the many distractions of the now.

We wish to suggest that calling it a great building because it’s unobtrusive is a bit like saying that Instagram is brilliant platform because it gets out of the way and just lets people share pictures. Like Instagram, the Whitney’s #MSN is a brand new medium, and a million subtle decisions go into building any successful social product. We believe that it is even more important to recognize this building’s greatness because those decisions are ultimately obscured by the careless impression of the bricoleur’s Sprezzatura.

Yeah, we just said that the Whitney is the Instagram of Museums. Which is to say that there’s no way to logically explain it (we’ll spare you talk of minimum viable museum products and rapid iteration) save to say that, like Instagram, it somehow strikes the right balance between action at a distance and tangible addiction, the personal and the social, and, in Newmanesque zips, it achieves the sublime heights of lyrical simultaneity.


Why did we end our first night at this museum at Perry Street wolfing down Cedric’s lobster? Because Richard Meier is the founding architect of Manhattan’s West Coast.

To him tribute must be paid. He deserves a shout out. That’s why, on Friday night, we poured a drop of our ‘tinis onto Sriracha-encrusted tuna.

Meier set the tone and established the idiom of Manhattan’s West Coast. White bright, light bright; he turned on the magic of shining light.

Before Piano’s Whitney set sail, before Gehry iglooed Barry Diller, before Nouvel shattered glass, Richard Meier landed on Perry Street at the turn of the Millenium.

And New Yorkers hated it. The reaction of all (save for Vincent Gallo) was something like, “He better Get-ty that California crap out of Gotham!” It was practically all anyone could talk about in that oh-so-innocent summer before 9/11.

And now look around! Save for one Stern brown reminder of superiority and absolute power, all the notable structures have embraced Meier’s pallet.

Guess who coined the term “Meiericity”? We’re often accused of neologisming all over the place, but it was not we. ‘Twas the Grey lady.



We couldn’t help but wonder why they let Frost title the inaugural exhibition “America Is Hard to See”? It’s a nice line ‘n all, but the poem itself is a biter screed against Christopher Columbus, “all he did was spread the room of enacting out the doom.” Now, we’re not saying that’s not true (and we wouldn’t disagree with Neil Young about Cortez being a killer) but icy metrical condemnation doesn’t capture the vibe of this new, big, light, contradictory, polymorphously permeable Whitney.

You know who’d better serve the inverted double sail, the persistent on-beating, against the current, of great gamma Gertrude’s art, busting and pulsing out of Experimental Jet Set’s fluctuating W, running faster, stretching farther…

It’s so obvious.

Walt Whitman:

“Do I contradict myself?

Very well then I contradict myself;

(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”

The opening exhibition should have been titled:




The Passion of Jay DeFeo

Spirituality is tricky when used to define artwork. And, to make it more difficult, as a culture we continue to move towards a substandard relationship towards valuing artistic process and embrace the soulless media driven art market economy. Historically artists were integral in the dispersion of religion—with painted icons and gilded tomes, missionaries were sent out to preach morals and successfully converted the uneducated masses—completely transfixing entire communities. As culture has developed, rearrangements of basic formal elements began to communicate new divinities.

Jay DeFeo’s retrospective arrives at the Whitney Museum of American Art on February 28, and with it will be The Rose, her roughly 2,300-pound painting completed in 1966. Throughout the eight years The Rose took to become realized, the composition grew—the work, already too heavy for her to handle on her own, was repositioned and affixed on a larger piece of canvas with the help of a couple artist friends. Repositioned to decentralize the figurative element—a crucifix-like intersection, it morphed into strong dimensional bands with linear scaring, and then softened to something lotus-like, and so on. The physicality of the successive paint applications reverberates like a lunar-halo. A core sample, if taken, would reveal a pilgrimage to an idea and a dedication much like a penitent parishioner. 

DeFeo was born in Hanover, New Hampshire in 1929, and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area as the country grappled with the Great Depression. Her mother, a nurse, supported the family as her father finished medical school at Stamford. Soon after her father finished school and established his practice, DeFeo’s parents divorced and she became a child of two distinct environments—shifting between her parents and their families in San Francisco and rural Colorado—which is amplified in her use of line and structural geometry in her work

In 1951, upon graduating from at the University of California, Berkley, she won what she calls her “get-out-of-town traveling fellowship” and jetted over to Europe to absorb the land, architecture and the collections throughout Florence, Paris, London, and Northern Africa. Her palette became an interpretation of the story-worn terrains. After stretching out her stay, she returned to San Francisco in 1953 and began a search for employment. She took any job—childcare, in a soda shop as a “soda-jerk”, and even tried her luck at the five-finger discount for a couple cans of paint, which landed her in jail for a night and stripped her of her teaching certificate. Her cellmates jokingly referred to her brush with the law as a “colorful crime.”

Around this time too, she married Wally Hendrick—a Bay area artist born in Pasadena who, during his twenties made music in the Studio Thirteen Jazz Band with artists David Park and Elmer Bischoff. She became embedded in the Beat scene where artists dealt in funk and improvised relationships to multiple forms of poetry, music, installation, and performance. Funk defined the trance like control of materials over artists, and as Hendrick recalls, DeFeo attracted the attention of Walter Hopps and Irving Blum “because her stuff was really more definitive of that era, it’s funkier and she was somewhere between abstract expressionism and funk. They liked it because they’d never seen anything like that.”

Her inclusion in the definitive 16 Americans exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1959 was followed in 1960 by a solo exhibition at Hopps’s and Blum’s Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles. Even with the strong outside interest she remained fully committed to her practice and shrugged off the spotlight. This isn’t by any means significant to mention except that DeFeo’s objectives are counter to the intense production needs placed on contemporary artists. Its important to point out the eight years that DeFeo committed to the evolution of a painting although it can be misconstrued as a romantic notion. It does signify a dynamic shift to our capabilities to engage with time. Investigations, on any level, involve concentrated efforts and, usually, a bit of reclusion. Are we out of range for this type of investigation?

In preparation for the exhibition, check out Bruce Conner’s film The White Rose. It’s a short film documenting the de-installation of The Rose from DeFeo’s apartment, as it is hoisted down to the ground by a team of art handlers. It’ll give you a sense of the weight of her search in stark contrast to the shallow nowness-ness of our full-throttle, multi-platform media “needs” and reliance on press releases and public relations agencies to determine artistic worth.

Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective runs through June 2.

What We Hope To See at Jeff Koons’ Whitney Retrospective

The Whitney Museum of American Art is getting ready to say goodbye to its ritzy uptown digs before moving to a larger space in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. And before it goes, there will be one last huge exhibit: a retrospective of work by controversial artist Jeff Koons.

“This will be the first time a single artist has ever taken over almost the entire museum,” Whitney curator Scott Rothkopf told the Times. “We wanted to choose an iconic American artist as a farewell to the Breuer building.”

The show, set to open in January 2014, will include over 100 of Koons’ works dating from 1979 through 2004. It will be the first time a New York museum has been able to pull of a retrospective of Koons’ work, which is often very expensive to manufacture and difficult to handle.

Koons’ catalog isn’t made up of pretty paintings, however. The artist is perhaps best known for his oversized metallic sculptures that look like balloon animals and his “Made In Heaven” series of paintings, which depicted him and his (now ex) wife, Italian porn star turned politician Ilona Staller. 

There’s plenty of other work in Koons’ oeuvre, however. Here are five works we can’t to see up close.

Koons Jackson

Michael Jackson and Bubbles: In the late 1980s, Koons made three of these sculptures, which portray Michael Jackson and his best pal, the chimpanzee Bubbles, in porcelain and gold leaf.

Koons Puppy

Puppy: This 43-foot-tall topiary sculpture was created in the early 1990s, and while it’s adorable, the most interesting part of this dog’s life was when three members of a Basque separatist group attempted to plant explosives near the sculpture while it was on display in Bilbao.

Koons Car

BMW Art Car: Who says art can’t be functional? In 2010 Koons designed this car for BMW and then entered it in a race. Unfortunately the stunning and rare vehicle did not win.

Koons Train

Train: A $25 million, 70-foot replica of a Baldwin 2900 steam locomotive is being considered by the folks behind New York’s High Line as decoration for the elevated park. But where better to debut the piece, which could perhaps be finished in time for the Whitney show, than on Madison Avenue?

Koons Heaven

Dirty – Jeff on Top: Of all the porno-style images from the “Made In Heaven” series, this is one of our favorites. Plus it seems like a good sculpture to hang out near and meet people.

Because the Night: Robert Mapplethorpe Remembered

By Nick Haramis , July 22, 2008

Taken at a glance, the anthurium looks fragile, as if its rawboned stem might collapse under the weight of the fleshy spike engulfed by heavy leaves which sits atop the entire thing like a crown. Robert Mapplethorpe’s camera, however, not only captures the delicacy of the flower, but also draws attention to its pulsing, yannic throb, which, along with its neoclassical beauty, elevates the near-wilting object into a work of art. It’s a still life, but there’s nothing still about it. And, despite initial appearances to the contrary, it isn’t all that far from his more recognizable photographs, the shocking ones, all of which strive for unparalleled aesthetic splendor.

Whether he fixed his eyes on orchids or bullwhips, Mapplethorpe’s interest lay in beauty rather than anthropology, and still, he proved an incomparable chronicler of New York’s thriving downtown art scene throughout the 1970s and 1980s. It was a time of transition for the city, an unprecedented shift from innocence to experience brought on by the AIDS epidemic. And it’s all there, in the flowers, the portraits and the engorged penises, many of which are currently on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Polaroids: Mapplethorpe exhibition.

He became one of the most revered and reviled photographers of the 20th century, but one gets the sense that the leap from Robert Mapplethorpe to “Robert Mapplethorpe” took hold in the summer of 1963, when the 16-year-old satyr was caught stealing gay pornography from a newsstand in Times Square. The aesthetics of gay male sexuality — and later, unflinching images of raw sex — would go on to color every period in his artistic career.

Mapplethorpe met Patti Smith in 1967. He was drinking the electric Kool-Aid. She was trudging through a terrible date. Their initial pairing was a symbiotic, if hasty solution that would define their relationship until Mapplethorpe’s death in 1989. They needed one another, always, but especially at the beginning of their bohemian squalor, when income was elusive, celebrity a dream.

His relationship with Smith is ambiguous, and the intimate details of their time together seem almost irrelevant. Smith, who was traveling while the interviews on the following pages were conducted, has said, “We were like two children playing together, like the brother and sister in Cocteau’s Enfant Terribles.” If there had once been a sexual relationship between the two, it was certainly over by the time Mapplethorpe met his first boyfriend, model and artist David Croland, in 1970.

After his abrupt initiation into a world of riches, populated by Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger and Diana Vreeland, Mapplethorpe met a much older art c collector name Sam Wagstaff, who would become his one true love. Arguably. As with many aspects of Mapplethorpe’s life, the legitimacy and sincerity of his relationship with Wagstaff has been questioned. With Wagstaff, Mapplethorpe began to embrace (and vividly document) his appetite for dirty, rough sex. It was a dark time in Mapplethorpe’s life, and many have suggested that it was his way of coming to terms with notions of spirituality, an attempt to grapple with a greater truth. Others think it was the drugs.

He was diagnosed with AIDS in the mid-1980s, while at the top of his career, and was soon ravaged by the epidemic that decimated downtown New York. Wagstaff died from the disease in 1987, and two years later, Mapplethorpe followed.

Mapplethorpe’s photographs are appropriations, taking inspiration and definition from the likes of Diane Arbus, New Orleans provocateur George Dureau (who has something to say about the matter below) and Edward Weston. But they’re also much more than that, because, through his lens, Mapplethorpe set down for future generations an honest and unapologetic account of a time not soon forgotten. Here, a portrait of the man behind the camera, in fragments.


BOB COLACELLO (former Executive Editor of Interview, Vanity Fair Special Correspondent): I first spotted Robert at a Patti Smith reading. He was standing along the wall, and he had this curly hair. He looked very angelic. I always saw him as an angelic figure, and it wasn’t until he turned devilish that I stopped hanging out with him. He was living with Patti in this ramshackle loft near the Chelsea Hotel, and they had a piece of fabric hanging from a clothesline, which acted as the wall separating his side from her side. I think they had been lovers.

JAY JOHNSON (model, twin brother of Andy Warhol’s boyfriend, Jed Johnson): I don’t know if it was a friendship, or if they had a sexual relationship. It just seemed to me that Patti and Robert were really close friends.

DAVID CROLAND (model, photographer): I had just gotten back from London, where I was modeling, and we became friends very quickly. We became boyfriends even quicker. He received his first Polaroid around 1971, I believe. And when he got it, he started experimenting with Patti and me. Working with him was easy and intimate. The erotic pictures involved a kind of role-playing at the time.

DEBBIE HARRY (musician):I had seen Robert around before I had ever been introduced to him, and always thought he was sexy. The first time I worked with him was on the roof of his old studio on the Lower East Side. I was wearing a pink racerback shirt. What I remember most was how bright the sun was up there. I could barely keep my eyes open. Robert was very soft spoken and never said much during the shoots I did with him, but this time, he kept repeating for me to open my eyes. Natural light can be very unforgiving at times, but, of course, he knew what he was doing, and it turned out to be a really beautiful photo — squinty eyes and all.

SUZANNE DONALDSON (Mapplethorpe’s former studio manager, Glamour Photo Director): I was a subject of his once. I have the photo, and I call it “Wolf Child.” I had crazy hair and makeup, and I was topless in it. It looks like I had just been rescued from the woods. It’s like he possessed me. I was staring at him, and he got me to do exactly what he wanted.

JAY JOHNSON: David Croland became his first boyfriend. After David Croland, there was John McKendry, I think. I knew John and Maxime [de la Falaise, his wife, a former Vogue food editor], and that seemed, well, I don’t know what that seemed like. I remember thinking, What is he doing?


BOB COLACELLO: John and Maxime would send a taxi to Robert and Patti’s loft with $40 in it, so they could eat for a few days. John was in love with him and he kind of used John. Robert was a user.

DAVID CROLAND: Maybe the misconception is that he was sometimes calculating. But Robert didn’t calculate. He was very pure in his quest to have his art seen at the proper places. He was very good at meeting the people who were, I believe, inspiring to him, those who could help him present his work in the proper setting. Robert was always in search of an audience for his work. I think that the fame part was less important to him.

DOMINICK DUNNE (novelist, Vanity Fair Special Correspondent): He had about him a sense of stardom. Like some movie stars, he had a real sense about himself.

BOB COLACELLO: He was extremely capricious, arrogant, difficult and petulant. He and Andy Warhol had a very competitive relationship. Robert would always flirt with Andy’s boyfriend, Jed Johnson. He invited them to dinner and seated Jed next to him, and put Andy on the opposite side of the table. When Robert became famous, then Andy decided he liked him. When Robert had money and his photos were worth something, then Andy liked him. Robert always looked dirty, which turned Andy off. And Robert wouldn’t talk much around Andy, because, he said, “You’re so stupid, Bob. You give Andy all your ideas. Andy’s a vulture.” And Andy, well, he just thought Robert was creepy, and not very giving. And he was right. Robert was extremely self-centered and selfish.

EDWARD MAPPLETHORPE (photographer, Mapplethorpe’s brother): I was once included in a group show that Robert was also in, and he had a fit, made me change my name [to Edward Maxey]. It was almost like becoming another person. I mean, had I eventually evolved to the point where that had been my choice, well, that would have been one thing. But it was sort of forced upon me, so yeah, there’s some resentment there.

MARCUS LEATHERDALE (photographer, Mapplethorpe’s former office manager): Robert’s competitiveness finally destroyed our friendship. There was a sweet side to Robert, though, a gentle, almost vulnerable side that he didn’t show in public. I have never met anyone who was more driven in his pursuit of excellence.

GEORGE DUREAU (artist): He had at least two shows in New Orleans, and there would be dinner parties for him. I’d be sitting there, and as soon as he ate a few bites, he’d whisper to me, “We have to go.” I’d say, We can’t go now, with all these people here. And he would say to everyone, “I have to go because I don’t feel good. George will drive me home.” But we’d get in my car and he’d want to go to one of the gay bars, places where black people were singing and carrying on. I’d take him there, and he’d take one of them home.

JAY JOHNSON: The fact that Robert didn’t fit in was part of his allure. There was a group of English people, who were aristocratic and spoiled, that Robert became very involved with. He was taking a lot of drugs, although Robert was never addicted. He was very much in control, but there were definitely times when he was binging.

BOB COLACELLO: A lot of Robert’s work came out of his cocaine addiction, which was tied into his sex addiction, which was not uncommon in the 1970s. Robert could be sweet, but I found him less and less so as he became more wrapped up in his netherworld. Robert was a sadist, which irked me. And I guess that’s why I backed off. I wasn’t masochistic enough.

Patti and Robert.

EDWARD MAPPLETHORPE: My father was a white-collar, middle-class Republican, and that’s the way he intended on raising his children. Robert saw things differently. That tension was pretty prevalent, and that’s the reason Robert didn’t come home that often. My mother really suffered from it. She had a very special place in her heart for Robert. It was tough on her because she lost her connection to her son, and it had a lot to do with her husband. In the end, though, I think our parents were proud of Robert, even if my father wasn’t proud of some of the photographs he had taken. He once sent one of his co-workers to a show in New York that had the flowers and the S&M stuff. I remember my father coming home and being disgusted by what the guy had told him. He had no idea.

EVA AMURRI (actress): My mom [Susan Sarandon] and I were the “family” part of Robert’s life. He would come over for dinner, would be a sounding board on decisions about my schooling and upbringing, and was a part of most of the domestic aspects of our life in the city. My mom remembers that he was very strict and protective of me, and had surprisingly conservative opinions regarding my upbringing.

SUSAN SARANDON (actress): Robert was always very disapproving of the fact that I never married Eva’s father [Franco Amurri]. He urged me to marry him, regularly.

EVA AMURRI: I was three years old when the nude was taken. Looking back, what I find most interesting about the photograph is its ambiguity. It’s interesting what people will project onto his work — their own discomfort, mostly. My mom remembers that the actual pose was a reaction to her questions: “Do you know where your nose is? Do you know where your mouth is? Do you know where your knees are? Do you know where your vagina is?” And that’s when he took the picture.

CAROLINA HERRERA (fashion designer): Robert was soft-spoken, extremely elegant and verging on foppish, although, I must say, there was nothing feminine about him. As a friend, he was kind and considerate. He loved children and understood them — as you can see from his photographs. There was, however, nothing humble about Mapplethorpe.

DAVID CROLAND: We were together as boyfriends for three years, and then I introduced him to Sam Wagstaff. Sam saw a picture of Robert in my apartment, and asked who it was, after which I arranged for a meeting. So that’s how that happened. I was fine with it.

DOMINICK DUNNE: If Sam hadn’t been this magnificent American aristocrat who knew everyone important, I don’t think Robert would have been interested. He was a hustler at heart.

JAY JOHNSON: Sure, Sam was influential in helping Robert with his photography, but their relationship was very real. I think Robert was most happy when he was with Sam.

INGRID SISCHY (Contributing Editor Vanity Fair, USA; International Editor Vanity Fair, European editions; former Editor-in-Chief at Interview and Artforum): Sam was probably the most handsome man I had ever seen, and super charming. He didn’t necessarily look, however, like this free spirit. I think he had been in the Navy, so he had this very patrician, American look. At the end of an acquisitions committee meeting at the Museum of Modern Art, he came up to me and said, “I’d like to invite you to dinner. I have a friend I want you to meet.” The friend was Robert, who was also one of the most handsome men I’ve ever known. Robert was almost like a beautiful prowling black cat. You know when it’s dark and you can see the cat’s eyes light up? He was like that, in a black leather jacket.

PIETER ESTERSOHN (photographer): He spoke at length about his devil collection — inkwells, paperweights and sculptures. The cane he’s holding in his self-portrait when he was ill had a devil’s head on it. He also photographed himself with horns. Maybe it was meant to represent his dark side?

JAY JOHNSON: I’ve always had a very curious idea about what Robert was doing with his artwork. Some of the early stuff was filled with crucifixes. There was this real sense that he was working out his own spirituality through his work. The more sexual things became an extension of this exploration. I never found his work to be pornographic or shocking, but rather, spiritual to the extreme.

DAVID CROLAND: When I was with Robert, he never took such extreme nudes. They were much more romantic, gentler. When I look at those pictures, I look at them as compositions and don’t judge what was behind them.

INGRID SISCHY: When you look at a Mapplethorpe orchid, it’s almost like looking at an O’Keeffe painting of a flower, with the same undercurrents of sex.

CAROLINA HERRERA: My grandmother once asked me if I had seen a pornography book, in which I appear in pearls and a veiled hat. Mapplethorpe was to photography what van Dyck and Ingres were to painting. You notice the same perfection in his photographed petals and skin that you find in the voluptuous satins, velvets and flesh in these great paintings.

JAMES CRUMP (director of Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe): All photographers are derivative and few can ever claim originality, but with Mapplethorpe’s sex pictures, he came closest to marking out a territory that was uniquely his own. GEORGE DUREAU: One of the guys who worked for me used to say, “George, let’s get this out of here.” And he would hide all of my art when Robert came to visit, because he didn’t want him to see certain drawings of mine. There were so many of my things that Robert would copy. We didn’t become enemies, exactly, but we became distant. His brain would see something in my drawings, paintings and photographs, and he’d carry it back to New York because he didn’t know how to draw himself. His artwork was not very good.

INGRID SISCHY: Whether you’re talking about the flowers, the portraits or the pictures that dealt with sex and sexual identity, I think that there’s a sense of timelessness in his work. Of course that’s in the flowers. But what makes the sex pictures so brilliant is that they really speak of the time in which they were made. You look at those pictures and you know the shape of the moment in which they were created. And, to me, that’s what incredible art does. It takes us back into a moment and into a world that would not have otherwise been accessible. Like the portraits, the sex pictures and the nudes exude a kind of formalism. That’s what’s really shocking — the combination of the subject matter with this formal beauty. If they were messes, it’s almost like people would have an excuse not to look at them. But they have this perfection, this formalism, this symmetry, this understanding of beauty and this understanding of technique. He really knew how to draw you in.


MICHAEL MUSTO (Village Voice columnist): He brought dark, dank sexuality out of the closet and became the visual poet of gay S&M. Even in his absence, he’s still moving the culture forward more than most live politicians do.

SYLVIA WOLF (curator of Polaroids: Mapplethorpe): The thing that most surprised me during my research on Mapplethorpe’s Polaroids was the curiosity and delight I saw reflected in his pictures. Robert’s spontaneous engagement with his subjects is both touching and thoroughly disarming.

JAMES CRUMP: For both Wagstaff and Mapplethorpe, the act of looking was an erotic one, tinged with possibility. During viewing sessions in Wagstaff’s One Fifth Avenue penthouse apartment, both he and Mapplethorpe would prepare themselves to receive the imagery by snorting lines of coke and smoking pot. Photographs for them were sexual objects. BOB COLACELLO: I was sharing a bedroom with Robert, with two beds, while on a trip to Bridgehampton. He started telling me about his experiences that summer, about meeting people who liked to be led around on a dog leash. He was really getting into S&M, and he started describing these practices to me. I was completely horrified and turned off, and didn’t call him again for months.

EDWARD MAPPLETHORPE: Robert was an obsessive person. I don’t mean he was trying to collect black men, but he got obsessed with the black male physique and the way it photographed.

INGRID SISCHY: During the period when Robert was photographing a lot of black models, he was having relationships with a number of them. I think he was perfectly honest and completely unashamed of the idea that he was really attracted to black men, which might sound like the perpetuation of that stereotype whereby black men are portrayed as sexual beings. But Robert was certainly no racist.

BOB COLACELLO: Robert took a photo of this fat man on his knees having his genitals tortured by two guys in leather hoods. People hate the KKK and the Nazis, but then it’s okay if liberals are doing the same thing in the West Village? I don’t get it.

PATRICK McMULLAN (nightlife photographer): It took me a long time to understand that side of his work, and the world that existed in the underbelly of New York. Like many artists, he was destroyed by the world that fascinated him. I was a little afraid of him for no actual reason.

DOMINICK DUNNE: He was sick for a long time, which puts you out of commission. He was also vain, and he knew he didn’t look good. So he sort of disappeared, and there’s a bit of mystery in dropping out of sight rather than having everyone say, “Oh, he looks terrible.”

EDWARD MAPPLETHORPE: Robert was vain. There were times when he would say, “I look so terrible. I look so thin.” But then again, he was like, “It’s time to do another self-portrait.” He wanted to document himself like that. I don’t know if he was embarrassed by his appearance, but he never sheltered himself.

INGRID SISCHY: He and I tried to give up cigarettes a few times together — both failing, by the way. Once, I think, we did succeed and we’d both stopped for a few months. Then we went out to dinner, after he had been diagnosed, and he took out a pack of cigarettes. I said, Robert, you’re smoking! And he said, “Why not?” We talked about what was going on when he was diagnosed and continued to until he became unconscious, basically. There were no things left unsaid.

DOMINICK DUNNE: I saw him five times while he was dying. He had a studio on West 23rd Street, and in the middle of the studio there was a four-poster bed. I remember him being in bed, near the very end of his life. He weighed nothing. He had pillows and sheets covering him, and he said, “Dominick, I want to take your picture.” And I said, Oh, come on. But he got out of bed, and that’s when I saw how tiny and thin and helpless he was. It was then that I really liked him. All I did was stand there and all he did was snap the photograph because everything had already been arranged for him. He got out of bed, walked to the thing and he did it. I was so fucking nervous. I thought, Please God, don’t let him die while taking my picture. JAMES CRUMP: The only time I saw Robert Mapplethorpe was at his 1988 Whitney Museum retrospective. He was sitting in a wheelchair in the corner of the gallery, voyeuristically observing the viewers’ reactions to his work. It was an eerie scene. Mapplethorpe’s deteriorating physical appearance was quite shocking in contrast to the pristine, idealized black-and-white portraits hanging on the wall. Surveying the galleries one last time, he seemed smitten with celebrity even as he edged towards death. That image has haunted me ever since.

INGRID SISCHY: I went with Robert to his Whitney retrospective. We had to take the wheelchair out of the car for him when we arrived and the paparazzi were there, and it was just horrible that they were flashing and not giving him a moment to compose himself. Robert wasn’t the first of our group to die. When Sam died, he had been with a man named Jim Nelson. Robert and I went over to their house and I remember talking about how the body was going to be picked up. Remember, those were the days when people who died of AIDS were discriminated against. We were in a cab afterwards, and he looked at me and said, “I’m next.” I said, No, you’re not, and he wasn’t. He had some time, but not enough.

EDWARD MAPPLETHORPE: I never heard Robert say anything about regret. And that was sad, a bad ending to the whole thing, because I’d hoped that he might have let down his guard. I wanted him to make an effort. I had hoped he might finally make peace with my father. But it just wasn’t in the cards. No, there were no regrets.

image Mapplethorpe, at his 1988 Whitney Museum retrospective, New York.