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Patti Smith
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© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Jointly acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by The David Geffen Foundation, and The J. Paul Getty Trust

Robert Mapplethorpe
American, negative 1975, print 1995
Gelatin silver print
14 1/8 x 14 in.
2011.7.1

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A man's jacket slung over one shoulder, the cuffs of her shirt cut off with scissors, the Bohemian poet and performer Patti Smith levels her gaze outward with authority and calm. The set of her jaw and lift of her chin suggest she wears confrontation lightly. Simultaneously, a waifish delicacy haunts her tiny body. She touches the ribbon around her neck with long fingers cupped near her heart --a shy gesture and nod to the garb of the 19th-century Romantic poets she admires. With quiet ferocity, the portrait hovers between masculine and feminine, strength and vulnerability.

Intimately bonded in life and work, Mapplethorpe and Smith made this image for the cover of her debut rock album, Horses. It is one of his earliest celebrity portraits, a genre in which he went on to distinguish himself. He often amplified the glamour of his subjects, but modernized conventional portrayals with provocative depictions of race, gender, and sexuality. For example, record executives, concerned that Smith with her lack of makeup and messy hair wasn't conventionally pretty enough to sell records like other "girl singers," wanted to airbrush this image. Knowing Mapplethorpe would back her up, Smith refused and the image and album shaped the start of both their iconoclastic careers.