Just a Kid Reviewing Just Kids

Back in high school my photography teacher made us do sketchbooks and every other week we had to explore a different artist and learn about them. Some artists she picked for us and others we could search out for ourselves but one of the ones she chose for us was Robert Mapplethorpe. Since I was introduced to his work,  I have been both horrified and positively in awe of his photographs. Their emphasis on form using stark black and white photography has been beautiful and at times odd yet still powerful. A couple of years ago when I was in Florence at the Accademia I saw an exhibit of his work depicting bodies[1] as a comparison to Michelangelo’s unfinished marble figures[2] and it was quite amazing really to see these two artists separated by almost 500 years attacking the same subject in two different media.




michelangelo slave

Anyway, this blog post was supposed to be about Just Kids by Patti Smith. I read it while I was in Paris and it was so good. While Smith has an interesting life, it is all the more enhanced by her relationship with Mapplethorpe and getting to get an intimate peek at his world was an amazing experience. His work was literally everything for him and his obsessions and processes are accounted by Smith in the memoir. Their relationship, which was in many ways easy-going and simple while also being deeply complex and twisted, is one of real love and the story is an account of true friendship at an age where your friends are your life. On top of which she goes into detail about New York and the Chelsea Hotel in its prime.



But really, the beauty in this work lies in her story with Mapplethorpe. His haunting photographs, while beautiful, can be excessively disturbing and dark and you get the sense that Smith was seeing these fleeting emotions while also being barred from his world. Filled with images of the two of them, each other’s art and words of adolescence I highly recommend this history of friends.




[1] Often truncated at the head or otherwise facially hidden allowing for mostly anonymous subjects.

[2] Just as a fun-fact, art historians compare Michelangelo’s carving process as if a body is emerging from a bathtub. And Michelangelo also felt that there was a figure inside the marble and it was his duty to free it.


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