Written by Dahlia Merlo on 27.12.16

Black leather and fabulously-clad men and women were definitely not in short supply last at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The occasion? A vernissage for the Robert Mapplethorpe Focus : Perfection exhibition, currently on until January 22nd, 2017.


Guests were greeted with champagne and two striking figures meant to be the living representations of some of Mapplethorpe’s most controversial muses: female bodybuilder Lisa Lyon and his lover Milton Moore. The MMFA presented a bodybuilding woman dressed in heels and a tight spaghetti-strap dress which highlighted the model’s defined musculature, and a young black man wearing what could be characterized as typical 1980’s New York gay scene uniform, i.e. leather all around. Mapplethorpe liked to push the envelope and showcase members of society that people didn’t want to see, like homosexuals and black men.


Before guests entered the halls showcasing Mapplethorpe’s work, all were invited in an unspoken manner to look around the room and examine the bilingual quotes from men and women speaking about their sexual awakenings and what it means to be queer today — with the message that there is very little difference in terms of prejudice when looking at what Mapplethorpe experienced during his time and that of today.


Once inside the halls, the exhibition is organized with an almost voyeuristic approach in mind: you definitely have to congregate around the written information, but even when you find a space to observe the photographs or videos in an unobstructed manner, you’re still very much part of the visiting group. The black panels separating each section are in fact see-through, so you’re watching others watching Mapplethorpe and, considering there is no shortage of self-portraits in the exhibition, Mapplethorpe is always watching you.


Of course, when it came to showing some of the photographer’s more shocking images, visitors were warned with plenty of signage of the mature content awaiting them. Interestingly, it is only once guests have passed all the pornography-inspired works that we come to the flower photographs — a failproof way to highlight the juxtaposition between both subjects.


After the viewing, guests were given the chance to let loose and party it up with drinks and popcorn. Although it was a sublime evening in celebration of a controversial figure, one cannot help but wonder what Robert Mapplethorpe would have thought of being celebrated by the same group of people who shunned and feared him while he was alive; especially when some in attendance strikingly resemble the character of Richard as played by Russell Sams in The Rules of Attraction, complete with sunglasses and all.


For more information and to check out admission fees, visit the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ website.

1380 Rue Sherbrooke O, Montréal, QC H3G 1J5
514-285-2000 and 1-800-899-MUSE (6873)

Photos courtesy of the Frédéric Faddoul.

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