An exposition not to miss at Montreal Museum of Fine Arts


I remember the first time I laid my eyes on a photograph of Robert Mapplethorpe. It was that stunning portrait he took of the singer Patti Smith, her naked body curled up against a radiator in an empty room. I couldn’t stop looking at the black and white image, totally captivated by the beauty of its simplicity. It was only years later that I took the time to immerse myself in Mapplethorpe’s work, discovering the significant impact his provocative work had left on so many generations.

Robert Mapplethorpe was an American photographer, who rose to fame in the 1970s over his controversial portraits showing the underground BDSM scene, celebrities, and male and female nudes. Homosexual himself, he chose to focus his art on a world that had been mostly kept hidden from the public eye until then.

This fall, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is hosting a major Canadian premiere, an exhibition featuring his stylized black and white portraits, along with nudes and still lifes. Beyond the scandalous aspect of some of his photographs, the exhibit will be focusing on his quest for aesthetic perfection. To get a more in-depth look at the upcoming exposition, I sat down with its Montreal curator, Diane Charbonneau.

“It has already been shown in Los Angeles and we are the next stop before it leaves for Australia and Korea. I am not the one who initiated its presentation at the Museum, but I am making sure everything is well-organized regarding the kind of public we have,” she explains.

Putting together this kind of an exhibit obviously takes a lot of time and work, especially collecting exclusive pieces that have never been shown before.



“We reached out to people close to us, from Montreal and Toronto, who were in possession of some of Mapplethorpe’s rare photos and photography books. We wanted to make sure all the different aspects of his work were covered,” Charbonneau adds.

We start discussing how Mapplethorpe’s photographs have left a strong impression on us, for different reasons. After explaining my particular fascination with his time spent with Patti Smith at the Chelsea Hotel, I ask her if she is moved by a specific period of his work.

“I have personally always liked his artistic visions, but working on the exposition made me discover some new aspects. More than an artist, he was also an important part of that sexual liberation that happened in the 1970s, especially for homosexuals. Yes, there is all that glamorous part of his life with Patti Smith and the fact that he was hanging out with celebrities from his time, like writer [William S.] Burroughs and Debbie Harry; but it is mostly his classic approach to photography and his devotion to his work that truly impress me. He didn’t even have a real formation on the matter, but he was a true artist at heart,” she says. “He always had the vision; he just had to find the right medium to express it.”

I ask her if she thinks some of the exhibited photographs, being graphic in nature, might shock the public.

“Of course, there are parts of the exhibition – more on the porno side – that are not for everybody. Still, I think the beauty of his work will speak for itself,” she declares with assurance.



– FOCUS: PERFECTION ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE, September 10, 2016 to January 22, 2017 at The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.



About The Author

Marie-Ève Venne
Lifestyle Director

Marie-Ève is a little person who still secretly wishes she were one of the Olsens twins. You can catch her running from event to event, a coffee bigger than her face in one hand and her cell phone glued to the other. At Dress To Kill, she is the one writing about the newest musician you need to discover and that trendy boutique that just opened.

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