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Robert Mapplethorpe was born in 1946 in Floral Park, Queens.
In 1963, Mapplethorpe enrolled at Pratt Institute in nearby Brooklyn, where he studied drawing, painting, and sculpture. Influenced by artists such as Joseph Cornell and Marcel Duchamp, he also experimented with various materials in mixed-media collages, including images cut from books and magazines. He acquired a Polaroid camera in 1970 and began producing his own photographs to incorporate into the collages, saying he felt "it was more honest."
In the late 70s, Mapplethorpe grew increasingly interested in documenting the New York S & M scene.
In 1986, he was diagnosed with AIDS. Despite his illness, he accelerated his creative efforts, broadened the scope of his photographic inquiry, and accepted increasingly challenging commissions. The Whitney Museum of American Art mounted his first major American museum retrospective in 1988, one year before his death in 1989.
His vast, provocative, and powerful body of work has established him as one of the most important artists of the 20th century.
Robert Mapplethorpe initially used photography to incorporate imagery into his collage art. He then began taking up the camera himself, using it as an artistic instrument to carry through his message. Working in New York in the 70s, his work was seen as controversial for its depiction of the underground BDSM scene and its homoerotic undertones.
In the 80s, his work evolved into focusing on still life images of flowers and statuesque nudes that appear influenced by classical art. He was also instrumental in influencing a love of photography as fine art in his partner and benefactor Sam Wagstaff, who sold off his collection of paintings in order to begin collecting photography. This collection was later sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum for a report $5 million.