Americans Select Their Favorite Robert Mapplethorpe Photographs

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A citizen from each state in the country picked a Robert Mapplethorpe photograph from an archive of 2000 for a fascinating exhibit that opens tonight at the Sean Kelly Gallery in New York. A California artist is attracted to nostalgia (and Blondie’s Deborah Harry). A New York domestic abuse prosecutor is drawn in by a Mapplethorpe model’s vulnerability, while a Kentuckian is intoxicated by the “sexual quality” of his flowers. They come from diverse ages, races, occupations, backgrounds and familiarity of Mapplethorpe’s work, but together they re-contextualize his legendary oeuvre for the 21st century.

Click through our slideshow of a few of Mapplethorpe’s works selected by Americans representing their state and a few clues about why these images spoke to them. For all 50 sets of insightful reflections, check out Robert Mapplethorpe: 50 Americans .

Deborah Harry, 1978. Copyright Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission.

Some California love for the “graffiti icon” from Mister Cartoon.

Charles Tennant, 1978. Copyright Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission.

A Louisiana educator is drawn to this photo’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll undertone” and the “harmonious contradiction.”

Dan S., 1980. Copyright Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission.

The yin and yang theme of this work appeals personally to a Colorado resident.

Hand in Fire, 1985. Copyright Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission.

An Illinois resident picked for its expression of “the human desire to hold something ethereal that cannot be held.”

Jack Walls and Sam Sullivan, 1983. Copyright Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission.

A student from North Carolina reads a representation of a multicultural future in this photograph.

Vincent, 1981. Copyright Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission.

A Florida resident enjoys this ambiguous presentation of gender.

Phillip Prioleau, 1984. Copyright Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission.

A New York resident who served as domestic violence prosecutor was moved by the vulnerability in this photograph.

Flowers 1986. Copyright Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission.

A Kentucky garden designer is fond Mapplethorpe’s flower photography and this one is “perfect.”