Picks and Pans Review: Mapplethorpe

updated 08/14/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/14/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Patricia Morrisroe

In this readable but ultimately opaque biography, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe—now best known for his explicit portfolio of portraits from New York City's S&M demimonde—comes across as a green-eyed robot programmed for gay sex. He seems to have been game for just about anything except a mutilation ritual involving a razor-wielding transvestite. According to Morrisroe, a writer at New York magazine, Mapplethorpe, who died of AIDS at age 42 in 1989, seems never to have read a book, seen a movie, voiced a political opinion, subscribed to a newspaper, bought an album or told a joke. His existence was pretty much just darkrooms—and dark rooms. Oh, and he collected objets d'art. According to the author, he was also a vicious racist, despite his famous studio portraits of black men (that's the one genuine shock). He doesn't exactly grow on you.

None of this is much help in trying to make sense of why Mapplethorpe's art is indeed art, as opposed to porn with the astonishing good fortune to be shown in galleries and museums. None of this makes you care. A biography of a robot, no matter how kinky the circuitry, is a self-defeating project. (Random House, $27.50)

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