Calla Lily
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© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Jointly acquired by The J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by The J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation.

Robert Mapplethorpe
American, negative 1988, print 1990
Gelatin silver print
19 5/16 x 19 5/16 in.

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My whole point is to transcend the subject...go beyond the subject somehow, so that the composition, the lighting, all around, reaches a certain point of perfection.
--Robert Mapplethorpe

Mapplethorpe's work, whether in his fashion or fine art photography, is distinguished by a tension between opposites. At the base of this image of a calla lily, he punctuates the wide planes of black and white with what seems a decadent surprise: the three-dimensional, curving lip of the flower's edge. He explores the effects of light as a painter might experiment with a palette of colors. At the top, the flower glows milky white, reminiscent of light seen through delicate alabaster or porcelain.

Mapplethorpe's spare compositions often showcase familiar subjects in unusual ways. Floral still lifes, for example, have long encouraged sexual interpretations, and especially here, given the artist's other work with erotic and sadomasochistic subjects. His imagination transformed and energized what some had considered a stale genre.