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Jerome Neutres, the curator of the controversial photo exhibition by Robert Mapplethorpe, greeting the audience of hundreds who attended the opening ceremony of the newly opened Kiasma Contemporary Art Museum in Helsinki on Thursday evening, March 12 2015. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art opens it’s doors again today after a lengthy closure for renovations. The main exhibit features the key periods of the American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe’s career, including photos of penises, naked bodies and famous actors. Mapplethorpe (1946–1989) lived a life of passion in the New York underground and rock scenes in the 1970s and ‘80s. That passion also made its way into his art.

The retrospective exhibition consists of more than 250 of Mapplethorpe’s works. It’s a blend of  beauty and eroticism with pain, pleasure and death.

Director Pirkko Siitari has suggested the changes in the building are subtle but important to improve the experience for visitors.

The building has always been very dimensional but now features improved signage and a host/hostess when you enter into the lobby. The goal is to keep guests from losing their way amongst the winding corridors of the exhibition spaces. The lobby is also where you will see most of the major structural renovations but the idea was never to change the museum, merely to improve upon Steven Holl’s existing design which focuses on natural light.

The space within Kiasma is now more energy efficient with the latest in exhibition technology and lighting as well. The museum features improved acoustics which visitors will notice in the café and the first floor theatre.

The public will get their first chance to test the sound on March 21 when Paul Tschinkel’s documentary highlighting the life and work of American Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe will be shown. The film includes a rare interview with Mapplethorpe himself and coincides with the incredible retrospective of Mapplethorpe’s work.

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Mapplethorpe’s photos broke the norms of the ’70s and ’80s. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Stylized, controversial, and unapologetic,  Robert Mapplethorpe was one of the most provocative American artists of the 20th century. His photos touched on a variety of subjects and imagery ranging from portraiture, to still lives, to the more controversial work he is so well known for addressing homoeroticism.

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Dare to look? Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

In the late 70’s this same body of work divided his advocates and opposition in a debate as to whether public funding could or should be used for the production of such controversial imagery.

Seemingly motivated by the criticism, Mapplethorpe’s career continued to flourish as well as his relationships with many well-known public figures such as Patti Smith, Richard Gere and Andy Warhol. A collection of his portraits occupies a portion of the space in Kiasma and gives some idea as to the expanse of Mapplethorpe’s celebrity circle.

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Mapplethorpe’s exhibit features some naked female bodies as well. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Through the years, Mapplethorpe remained close with Patti Smith who eventually authored Just Kids, published in 2010, documenting her relationship with the artist. 

Mapplethorpe died in 1989 from complications associated with AIDS, a disease he had been living with for 3 years.

In the final year of his life Mapplethorpe set up The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to protect his legacy and further the recognition of photography as an art form.

In the final weeks of his life, Robert also requested that the the foundation support medical research in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

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Various penises hanging and standing on the wall either disgust or fascinate the observer. You decide. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

More information about the exhibition and museum can be found here: http://www.kiasma.fi/

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