A Morbid Show by Artists Near Death

mapplethorpeThe new expo at Musée d’Art Moderne casts a morbid eye on art with “Deadline,” an exhibition examining the last years of productivity of a handful of contemporary artists who have died in the past twenty years. Part graveyard, part gallery: it’s a provocative concept. But it’s also one that can imbue works of art with unneeded — and unwarranted — melodrama. For some, there genuinely did seem to be an overt confrontation of imminent mortality, evident in the work itself and not just tacked on when viewed through the deathly lens imposed by the exhibit’s theme. Robert Mapplethorpe’s work demonstrates this most unequivocally. Examining the human form via statues of greek Gods and wrestlers, his pictures juxtapose the longevity of the statue with the ultimate deterioration of the human form. Mapplethorpe himself was diagnosed with HIV in the ’80s, and he knew his days were numbered. His enthralling “Self-Portrait” is a hauntingly self-aware picture: Mapplethorpe’s visage faces the viewer head-on, floating against an all-black background while his disconnected right hand clutches a cane topped with a small skull. His photos call attention to the body, both the skeleton and the flesh.

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