Robert Mapplethorpe once said, “I wait for that magical moment, then I take the picture.” Nearly 20 years after his death, Mapplethorpe’s artistic legacy is still celebrated for the way he effortlessly combined the timelessness of classical form with cutting edge subjects. This contradictory tension, or Aufhebung – a term coined by German philosopher Hegel – meaning to preserve and negate at the same time as transcending, defines much of Mapplethorpe’s work. He embraced ideals from the past, while looking towards the future. He was an artist willing to take a risk, walking a tightrope of dangerous beauty between the demands of a perfectionist and the abandon of a free spirit.
Mapplethorpe’s self-portraits of his hands memorialize the artist, yet simultaneously remain an iconic image that speaks to the present. His work of the 1970s and 1980s gives classical concerns, such as visual balance and symmetry, a subversive charge. His celebrity portraits document a past era that at the same time draws upon enduring aesthetic principles. The visionary power of his pictures of Lisa Lyon, the first World Women's Bodybuilding champion, anticipated the idealized physique of the modern woman in the 1990s, while referring to archetypal femininity. Mapplethporpe’s images are a memory of what the future used to look like.