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All Photography and Imagery Credit of Galérie Thaddaeus Ropac.

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30 May 2024

Exhibition Review: Robert Mapplethorpe Curated by Edward Enninful

JULIETT KENNEDY

Walking into the spacey white rooms of Galérie Thaddaeus Ropac, in the Parisien district of Le Marais, I am met by the stretching view of three consecutive rooms, each starkly empty but adorned with duos of Mapplethorpe’s black and white photographs, curated and assembled by Edward Enninful. He has chosen to display the photographs in pairs, having had free reign over  the entirety of Mapplethorpe’s collection. I can immediately understand the curational vision that Enninful, a Ghanaian-born fashion editor, was striving to realise. Certain pairs boast a fluidity, togetherness, whilst others push and pull against each other in contrast. Dappled light and dark shadows work together to simultaneously emphasise  or intertwine with each other.

The exhibition, which stretches across three rooms.

It’s no surprise that Enningful chose to work in pairs. As an editor, he is “used to seeing in double page spreads’’, using images that either clash or work together, with “tension and opposites, or harmony’’. Enninful has been curating across the double page spreads of editorial fashion since he was appointed fashion director of the British Fashion Magazine, at age 18, and this honed skill is in full show at the Mapplethorpe exhibition, where pairs are at forefront.

“The idea was to pair images, some images that flow together, some that fight against each other. The idea of serenity and chaos, purity versus excess. It’s about shape and it’s about form and it’s about light.’’ — Edward Enninful

 

Enninful builds a sense of serenity and binary satisfaction among his viewers, through his use of the duo, of photographs that at first glance seemingly match through their use of black and white, and often similar subjects. But, at their core, they can be unsettling, occasionally resisting cohesive harmony. Enninful is playfully tantalising the idea of contrast and unease with his viewer.

 

In a pair of photos displayed together, I can see that the human form is the initial point of connection, and repeated subject. But I also see the muscular, shining and still torso of a nude man, with an almost sculpture-like quality, contrasted with the soft intertwined hug of two men in the counterpart photograph. A stark dichotomy emerges, juxtaposing harshness and severity against the tender interlacing of the couple's arms.

 A pairing of two men hugging and a nude torso.

There is a pairing that has already attracted a crowd of viewers, who notice that the two photographs link, through the veil prop. The form of the nude on the right is striking, powerful and dynamic. Her nakedness contrasts the left photograph, where a woman stands delicately, fully clad in a boxy wedding dress. Her counterpart stands flexed, strong, yet her face is hidden. Her strength and poise challenges and contrasts preconceived ideas of femininity, accentuated further by the more traditionally dressed and traditionally ‘feminine’ poised woman to her left.

Two photographs paired together by Enninful in the Mapplethorpe exhibition.

After enjoying Enninful’s curational choices and Mapplethorpe’s iconic photographs, I walk back to leave the gallery. Turning around to take one last look, I notice that the overhead skylight has cast an overhead lighting over the whole room, starkly empty except for the photographs and the silhouettes of viewers who, I realise, Enninful has, intentionally or not,  playfully made part of the exhibition. I now look at them in pairs, at the light and dark which contrasts and connects them, the shapes that link them in harmony, and those that juxtapose.

The viewers become part of the curational vision, at a final glance.

***

For more information on Enninful’s curation and Mapplethorpe’s work, there is a press release for the exhibition on the gallery website.

All photography and imagery is credit of Galérie Thaddaeus Ropac.

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