The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation has given 30 prints by the photographer to the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University in Bloomington. The gift includes Mapplethorpe’s images taken in the 1970s and ’80s of his friends and, in particular, members of the New York S&M scene.
The institute was founded in 1947 by sex researcher and university professor Alfred C. Kinsey (1894–1956), who was the subject of the 2004 film Kinsey, starring Liam Neeson. Like Kinsey’s pioneering research into the sex lives of average Americans, which was considered scandalous at the time but led to frank discussions on the topic, the photos in Mapplethorpe’s notorious “X Portfolio” ignited the Culture Wars of the 1990s. Included in his touring retrospective “The Perfect Moment,” the show was canceled before it reached the Corcoran in Washington, D.C., after Senator Jesse Helms set off alarm bells. And the images—including men embracing, nude black men with erections that tested stereotypes and explicit sex—haven’t lost their shock value.
For now, the works are available by appointment to scholars and researchers, though the institute plans to mount an exhibition at a later date. The photos join others in the institute’s collection by such artists as George Platt Lynes, Irving Penn, Pierre et Gilles, Herb Ritts and Joel-Peter Witkin.
Snakeman, 1981, copyright © The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Courtesy of The Kinsey Institute®