HBO Releases Trailer For Provocative Doc “Mapplethorpe: Look At The Pictures”

One of the most celebrated—and condemned—artists of the 20th century.

In 1989, arch-conservative Senator Jesse Helms advised voters who didn’t believe he work of gay photographer Robert Mapplethorpe was obscene to “look at the pictures.”

That same year, Mapplethorpe died from AIDS-releated illness.

A quarter-century later, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato—the team who behind everything from The Eyes of Tammy Faye to RuPaul’s Drag Race—are revisiting the boundary-pushing artist’s work and legacy with Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, airing on HBO on April 4.

HBO/World of Wonder

Technically exquisite and thematically provocative, Mapplethorpe’s work titillated and outraged art lovers—and was fodder for right wing politicians looking to attack public funding of the arts.

Robert_Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures

His last show, “The Perfect Moment,” was also his most controversial: Bringing images of flowers, S&M pictures and male nudes together in a museum setting, it was canceled at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., thanks to Helms’ excoriation.

And when the show came to Cincinnati, the Contemporary Arts Center and its director, Dennis Barrie, were brought up on obscenity charges.

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Robert_Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures

Coinciding with Mapplethorpe retrospectives at the Getty and LACMA, Look at the Pictures explores Mapplethorpe’s work and the interplay of his personal and professional lives. Friends and colleagues like Mary Boone, Carolina Herrera, Brooke Shields and Debbie Harry are interviewed, as are Mapplethorpe’s older sister, Nancy, and younger brother, Edward, who assisted him on many shoots.

The documentary utilizes archival material and never-before-seen photographs and footage to bring his work—and his life—to the screen. “Even his most shocking and forbidden images are included without blurs, without snickers—in other words, exactly as the artist intended,” say Bailey and Barbato.

Below, watch a trailer for Mapplethorpe: Look At The Pictures, premiering April 4 on HBO.


Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.