While there are plenty of thoughtful comments, reactions and opinions expressed by the team of selectors (including by those who had never heard of Mapplethorpe before), I don't think professional curators have much to fear from this kind of democratization. An entirely random selection of 50 works from the archive would have produced an almost equally effective show; the only difference here is that the "explicitness" meter has been quietly but consciously turned down by the participants. As such, even though the photography on view is as exquisite as ever, this show isn't really about Mapplethorpe or even his legacy. It's more an investigation of the respectful mainstreaming and popularization of art, of how we choose to see what we want to see, somewhat regardless of the originality or intent of the artistic voice. For me, the exhibit was a strong reminder of why we need smart curators who challenge and jolt us, who take chances, make connections and explain backstories. Left to our own devices, we'll still enjoy the pretty pictures and happily pick our favorites, but we'll likely miss (or ignore) an entire layer of potential understanding (sometimes uncomfortable) that might have made us actually stop and think more deeply.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Robert Mapplethorpe, 50 Americans
Through June 18th
Sean Kelly Gallery
528 West 29th Street
New York, NY 10001