LOS ANGELES — The first feature-length documentary about Robert Mapplethorpe since his death, “Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures,” premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on HBO.
A photographer, Mapplethorpe documented sexuality, race and gender in pictures that helped spark questions over free speech that continued well after his untimely death due to AIDS in 1989.
The HBO feature takes a look at Mapplethorpe’s early childhood to his beginnings in New York City to his meteoric rise in the art world to his death, and well after it.
Just months after his death, Washington’s Corcoran Gallery of Art canceled the showing of a self-planned retrospective of his work, “The Perfect Moment,” after Sen. Jesse Helms campaigned to keep the National Endowment for the Arts from funding his exhibition. At the time Helms called Mapplethorpe a “known homosexual who died of AIDS.”
Later, the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati was acquitted of obscenity charges stemming from its showing of “The Perfect Moment.”
The film’s directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato interview Mapplethorpe’s younger brother, who acted as the photographer’s assistant for many years, as well as actress Brooke Shields, writer Fran Lebowitz, designer Carolina Herrera and singer Debbie Harry.
HBO’s “Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures” is being released in conjunction with "Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium," a joint retrospective exhibit at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.