New York, autumn 1978. Thursday evening at eight o’clock on the dot, Robert Mapplethorpe, bold and elegant in his black leather jacket, descends the stairs and makes his entrance into the main room of the notorious Mineshaft, the buzzy underground men-only club, temple and haven for every form of perversion. This is the sparkling voracious decade of gay emancipation: art and sex are closely bound together and Warhol’s prediction about everyone’s fifteen minutes of fame is an existential imperative. Mapplethorpe, the outrageous provocative photographer, brandishes his Hasselblad as if it were a revolver and aims straight at the dark side of those years when he is both witness and protagonist: statuesque nudes or bodies wrapped in latex and ropes, leather scenes, fetishistic activity, and his Mephistophelean self-portraits.
He was an “outlaw” from hell who took the dogmas of American society by storm and became, in spite of attempts to censure him, one of the most acclaimed artists of the twentieth century after his death from AIDS in 1989. Written by Jack Fritscher – lover and companion to Mapplethorpe in the late seventies and editor of the first magazine to publish his controversial images – this is not a biography in the strict sense: it is the portrait of a wild-at-heart period, recounted in all its excess and bizarre detail in an ironic upbeat style, comprising rapid-fire dialogue and hallucinatory portraits. But it is above all an intimate and personal collage of memories, meetings, loves, vices, obsessions, illness, illustrious friendships, lyrical interludes, scenes from everyday life and tales of derring-do, which allows the profile of a vulnerable man to emerge, a man of crystalline purity and at the same time ambitious and cocky, always intent on feeding the mystique that surrounded his public image. Robert Mapplethorpe was a risk-taker in life and in art, he courted danger and turned his own existence into a sequence of “perfect shots”.