Asking to Be Looked at
- Mapplethorpe: A Biography by Patricia Morrisroe
Macmillan, 461 pp, £20.00, September 1995, ISBN 0 333 66941 X
- Playing with the Edge: The Photographic Achievement of Robert Mapplethorpe by Arthur Danto
California, 206 pp, £20.00, October 1995, ISBN 0 520 20051 9
New York’s Guggenheim Museum contains in an annex a covert Robert Mapplethorpe gallery, a sober exhibition space which, like the masterpieces of its namesake, seems consecrated to the unusual and the mortifying. The current show – Joel-Peter Witkin’s photographs of corpses, amputees and hermaphrodites – holds a grotesqueness sufficient to remind the visitor of how sweet, how antique already, the infamous Mapplethorpe images have become. At least his models were alive.
Vol. 18 No. 3 · 8 February 1996
Wayne Koestenbaum (LRB, 25 January) says he is not into fist-fucking. Presumably he is not into jock-sniffing either, otherwise he would not wonder at how a ‘self-identified straight man’ like Arthur Danto could be traumatised by the sort of photographs he, Koestenbaum, finds ‘instructive’, yet also admit to having registered the size of his fellow soldiers’ cocks while in the Army. There is a world of difference between the sight of someone taking a shower and ‘acts beyond the pale of wedlock’. That said, Koestenbaum’s review prompted me to reread Sir Roy Vandervane’s pungent reflections on penises in Kingsley Amis’s Girl, 20. I include them here in the hope that Professor Koestenbaum may find them as instructive as Mapplethorpe’s photographs.
What about turning queer? you say to yourself. Plenty of facilities, these days highly respectable, pleasant companions, relatively inexpensive. And a prick is a splendid thing, and a splendid idea as well. It strikes you. The trouble is that in every case it’s got a man on the end of it. Which I’m afraid puts paid to it as far as I’m concerned.