Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography combines with punk rock in new nature exhibition at Selby Gardens
As you enter the Tropical Conservatory at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, plants and flowers hang in floating frames inspired by Robert Mapplethorpe’s famous flower photographs.
Nearby, bright green ferns surround an oversized reproduction of a dramatic black-and-white image of punk rock pioneer Patti Smith that Mapplethorpe took for the cover of her debut album “Horses,” which can be heard playing throughout. the greenhouse.
The multimedia experience is part of Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith: “Flowers, Poetry, and Light,” the latest installment in a series that explores the work of artists through the lens of their connection to nature.
Selby Gardens — a Sarasota staple for decades — was named The Living Museum in 2019. Past exhibits include transforming the Botanical Gardens into Marc Chagall’s Cote d’Azur and the South Pacific for Paul Gaugin.
Carol Ockman, Selby’s general curator, says pairing Mapplethorpe’s flowers and Smith’s nature writings seemed to go hand in hand.
“I think they would really like to be coupled that way,” she said of the new exhibit.
“And there’s something metaphorical that’s quite beautiful here is that of course plants and flowers regenerate, so it’s nice to see Robert remembering that way and Patti remembering him in parts of this show.”
Robert Mapplethorpe, who died in 1989 of complications from AIDS, played a major role in the elevation of photography as an art form. When first exhibited in 1973, very few art galleries were interested in exhibiting the medium.
“I don’t think the owners at the time understood its value,” Ockman said.
“Part of it is always about the unique quality of the paint, the artist’s hand versus something that’s mass-produced, but I think it showed how aesthetically exquisite a photographic image could be. “
By the 1980s, Mapplethorpe’s stock had increased dramatically. He has had dozens of exhibitions – some controversial – dealing with human sexuality, and dozens more featuring his floral still lifes.
Many of these images can be seen inside a small museum on the grounds of Selby Gardens. Mapplethorpe made the photographs in 1985 at the Graphicstudio at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
Also inside the museum, visitors can view historic photographs and memorabilia from Mapplethorpe and Smith’s youth as artists.
Selby Gardens’ chief curator David Berry says the artist’s partnership with Patti Smith, first as a couple and later as creative kindred spirits, is traced across the gardens in horticultural displays .
“We tell the story in spaces,” he said. “And the idea is that it sort of unfolds as you progress through the different environments.”
Under the leafy canopy of a tall fig tree, visitors can sit on a park bench under a neon replica of New York’s Chelsea Hotel, where the couple once lived. Nestled behind plants, small speakers play excerpts from the audiobook of “Just Kids,” Patti Smith’s National Book Award-winning memoir about her relationship with Mapplethorpe.
Smith, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, also wrote the preview for Mapplethorpe’s posthumous book “Flowers.”
Elsewhere, a white-walled open-air gallery has been erected with orchids and other colorful plants framed as living works of art. Curator Berry says the structure was designed to make the most of daily changes in light and shadow.
“One of the things that’s important to remember is that horticulture isn’t just a science, it’s an art form,” he said. “You have an incredibly talented group of people trying to translate the artistry of another talented group of people into their own discipline.”
In another horticultural installation, silver foliage depicting Mapplethorpe’s black and white photographs surrounds a planting of vibrant flowers. At the top is a record player spinning Patti Smith’s fourth record “Wave,” which featured an album cover shot by Robert Mapplethorpe in 1979.
Their deep friendship would continue in life for another ten years until Mapplethorpe’s death at the age of 42.
But their collaboration has continued in the writings of Patti Smith and now at the Selby Garden Botanical Exhibition, which the rock star largely endorsed during a recent performance there.
“I loved everything about it,” she said.
Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith: “Flowers, Poetry, and Light,” runs through June 26 at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota.