Robert Mapplethorpe and Carlo Mollino Make Summertime a Little Lusher

Karen Kedmey
Jul 9, 2014 7:06PM

In keeping with the lush, sensuous feel of summertime, with its heavy air and fat vegetation, Hamiltons Gallery presents “Mollino | Mapplethorpe,” an exhibition pairing lauded Italian designer Carlo Mollino with renowned (and controversial) photographer Robert Mapplethorpe—neither of whom were strangers to the formal beauty and sensual appeal of nature and nudes alike. Drawn from a number of rarely seen collections, the works on view comprise a suite of intimate Polaroids and C-prints of female nudes by Mollino, alongside two of his exquisitely curving chairs, and a selection of saturated, color prints from Mapplethorpe’s famously evocative “Flowers” series.

Mollino, Mapplethorpe’s elder by 41 years, was a modernist whose career spanned both the height and dissipation of that era. Considered one of Italy’s preeminent designers, he worked in opposition to the mainstream and mass-produced, which gained momentum in the interwar period. His two chairs included in the exhibition, called The Lattes Chair and The Copenhagen Chair, exemplify a transitional point in his approach, when he began to shift from undulating exuberance to a pared-down aesthetic. Set atop low pedestals and surrounded by Mapplethorpe’s flowers, their delicately formed seats, backs, and legs appear leaf-shaped, plant-like, alive. More of the designer’s chairs are visible beneath and beside the nude and scantily clad women who posed for him, in photographs meant not for the public but for his own artistic delectation. Seen in these small, raw photographs, next to female flesh and curves, the chairs now appear bodily, with limber spines and delicate ankles.

Though Mapplethorpe came of age as an artist in the contemporary period, he, too, could be described as a modernist. Whether making caressing portraits of his friends and acquaintances; bold, unabashedly erotic images of the gay S&M underground; or the close-up pictures of flowers in all of their suggestive anatomical detail on view in the exhibition, he shot with an eye for form, balance, composition, and beauty. These large format prints, each one focused on a single flower captured in his studio, were produced using the dye-transfer process, a notoriously arduous method that reaped singularly gorgeous, painterly results. In these works, the eroticism of nature is on full display, with the flowers appearing naked and flush, their parts perfectly formed come-ons to both humans and bees. They resonate with Mollino’s nearby nudes and with the world outside Hamiltons Gallery, heat-soaked and blooming.

Karen Kedmey

Mollino | Mapplethorpe” is on view at Hamiltons Gallery June 22 – September 11, 2014.