ARTISTS ROOMS Robert Mapplethorpe: The Magic in the Muse

“It’s the one with the magic”, was the reply to Patti Smith when she asked her friend and former partner, Robert Mapplethorpe, how he selected each photo he would exhibit.   Portraits of musicians, artists, dancers, children and flowers – each were treated with a playful reverence.

Robert Mapplethorpe Iggy Pop (1981) Photograph, gelatine silver print on paper support: 640 x 641 mm frame: 612 x 588 x 38 mm on paper, print ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Acquired jointly through The d’Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008


The variety of inspiration Mapplethorpe drew on, combined with a search for an almost intangible ‘magic’, has provided the starting point for our Tate ARTIST ROOMS project; by asking young participants to find their own personal ‘muse’ and then to try and distill it down into one single black and white shot, much as Mapplethorpe did.

Tate ARTIST ROOMS aims to encourage as many 13-25 year olds into galleries and museums as possible, and we challenged young people to find their own “one with the magic” in a bid to place the technology readily available today, be it in the form of a camera phone or a digital SLR, within the parameters Mapplethorpe was operating under as an ‘analogue-era’ photographer during the seventies and eighties.

The involvement of The Impossible Project has been key to connecting the Polaroid format Mapplethorpe originally used with today’s app-savvy young creatives.   The Impossible Project have developed a product, the Instant Lab (one of which they have kindly donated to our own project) which allows users, via the use of a smart phone or tablet and a downloadable app, to develop Polaroid-style photos at the push of a button.   The results will be available for all to admire both online, on Facebook and Twitter, as well as in the museum itself throughout the exhibition.


Students' wall of #magic
Students’ wall of #magic


Photography lovers
Project participants


For the launch of the exhibition, we invited young participants and their families to join us and to see their work in close proximity to the inspiration for the project – Mapplethorpe’s own images.   The resulting pictures the young people submitted were breathtaking in both the variety of subject matter and the sensitive interpretation of the challenge.   In addition, the Museum was treated to perhaps the loudest band and some of the youngest guests at a Preview Evening to date!


Poetic photography
Simply stunning photography


The band sRs
The band sRs


Throughout the following months, we will be offering young people many different opportunities to engage with both Mapplethorpe’s work and The Bowes Museum, with a variety of workshops and events. To date, these include songwriting and music events – in keeping with the interest Mapplethorpe himself had in capturing musicians – and, of course, photography.  Young people have provided the ‘lead’ in planning so far and it is hoped that, beyond the lifespan of this particular show, many will continue to engage with The Bowes Museum and develop further links with future exhibitions and events.

Celine Elliott – Project Coordinator;   My background is almost wholly divided between youth engagement, informal education and fine art.   Having completed a degree in Interactive Arts, I have worked all over the UK with different youth groups in a variety of different settings, including the Eden Project in Cornwall and with a number of smaller charities and local county councils.   Connecting young people with the arts is a passion of mine and working with Tate, National Galleries of Scotland and The Bowes Museum on this project has, to date, been inspirational – hopefully for the young participants a well as to myself!

By Celine Elliott, Project Coordinator

If you are aged under 25 years then you can register for free entry to the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition, see more information here>

‘Robert Mapplethorpe: The Magic in the Muse’ runs until 24 April 2016.

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