Robert Mapplethorpe, the visionary photographer and controversial chronicler of American subculture, whose work has posthumously sparked debates around eroticism and racial exploitation in the arts, is the latest high profile addition to a growing roster of artists under the OHWOW umbrella, with the gallery having acquired the rights to his estate in L.A. in 2013.
Known for his striking, classical portraiture and depictions of an often incendiary male form, it is the photographer’s perfection of composition (he adhered to the golden ratio) and desire for balance which is the focus of this exhibition, titled, As Above, So Below. The show’s title refers to a Hermetic principle, suggesting that whatever happens on one level of reality also occurs on a separate level. This concept is reflected in Mapplethorpe’s positing of a shared aesthetic that exists between photographs that some consider obscene and others find to be beautiful.
In anticipation of the forthcoming Mapplethorpe exhibition at OHWOW, online culture hub NOWNESS delves into the concept behind the show, speaking with gallery co-founder Al Moran to gain further insight into the photographer’s work:
When you were conceiving of the LA gallery, what was the vision you had for the space, and for the LA art scene?
When we were making the decision to relocate the gallery, we were looking at either New York or Los Angeles. We knew, full well, what New York had to offer, and it seemed like a logical move. At the beginning of the process, I would have put the odds of us relocating to New York at 90%. I still came out to Los Angles, to do my due diligence, though. What I found during my time here, both surprised and inspired me. I felt like anything was possible out here. There was (and is) a real desire for culture, and I felt that there was a true open-minded mentality amongst the arts community. It quickly became clear to us that we could inject the City with a certain energy and attitude that we felt was missing. The appetite for something different was there. I could feel it. We felt bringing our energy and aesthetic to the City would open things up, and push people to experiment more. Three years into it, I can already say we successfully accomplished that. The landscape has changed out here. It’s that much more dynamic, and I’m confident we had a major hand in pushing the boundaries and widening the audience for contemporary art in the City.
How important is setting when it comes to the way in which someone perceives a piece or body of work?
To me, context and intent mean everything. The artist’s intent while creating the work and the context in which it is presented can ultimately come to define a work. I recently read an essay titled Dangerous Liaisons discussing the relationship between design, craft, and fine art. I’ve been interested in why works are classified as they are. I find it quite amusing that a Design gallery can show an object on a pedestal, and it’s referred to as a vessel, while I can show the same object on a pedestal and it automatically becomes a sculpture. Whatever causes this immediate shift in perception fascinates me. To bring this question full circle, Robert Mapplethorpe is such a powerful force that his work actually shifts the context of the gallery as a whole. Having him as part of OHWOW has an overall effect on our program and elevates the gallery to a new level.
What are your thoughts on OHWOW’s rapid growth over the past few years?
Honestly, I don’t even know how it is that we ended up where we are today. We had explosive growth over the past three years. We’ve been very lucky to have a front row seat in watching a new generation of artists make their mark on the cultural timeline. It’s been exciting to provide a platform for them to perform on and to be a part of their individual story. The part that excites me the most is that we’re just getting started. This is a gallery in its infancy. To be able to have had such a cultural impact so soon only validates the vision we had when we began this journey.
How will you continue to grow the gallery and develop its programme?
Since we announced adding Mapplethorpe to our roster in late 2013, we’ve added two artists who I feel are going to have a profound impact, sooner rather than later. The first is Jacolby Satterwhite. Jacolby’s practice focuses on performance and video. His work is like nothing that I’ve ever seen before, and we’re all looking forward to his participation in this year’s Whitney Biennial. The other is Torey Thornton. Torey is a painter who is producing work that is so countercurrent that I feel it can change the direction of contemporary painting. We’re all eagerly anticipating his first exhibition with the gallery this Fall.
As Above, So Below runs February 28 through March 29 at OHWOW.