Like a crackhead in Amsterdam, the art world is generally known to suffer from a nearly crippling case of ADD. Today's shocking sensation is tomorrow's freshman dorm decoration and it's easy to look back on past controversies and not be able to see what all the fuss was about. Once avant-garde Impressionism is now mundane enough to be found on everything from magnets to postcards, while the stunts of more recent artists like Jeff Koons and Damien
Hirst now often just seem, well, a bit stupid.

08_2005_mapplethorpeart.jpgA case in point for all this is the work of Robert Mapplethorpe. Once shocking enough to be deemed "obscene" by the city of Cincinnati back in 1990, Mapplethorpe's photographs are now accepted enough to be compared with Classical art, in the Guggenheim's current exhibit Robert Mapplethorpe and the Classical Tradition: Photographs and Mannerist Prints.

While many people focus on sexual and purposefully shocking aspects of Mapplethorpe's work, in reality his photographs are often also highly skilled explorations form and of the sculptural uses of light. Rather than attempting to ignore prior artistic practices, Mapplethorpe realized that much of his works power could come from placing transgressive images and people within the larger history of art.

In this exhibit, the Guggenheim makes this dialog explicit by placing Mapplethorpe's photograph's next to Mannerist engravings and woodcuts by Hendrick Goltzius, Jan Harmensz. Muller, Jacob Matham, and Jan Saenredam, as well as near selected sculptures from Classical antiquity.

The connections between the various artworks are quite interesting and the show, which is open through August 28th, is well worth a visit. However, we have to see it's also just really nice to see Mapplethorpe's work being considered for more than just its sensational value.