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In this essay, Solomon-Godeau examines two exhibitions of Robert Mapplethorpe’s work staged in Paris in 2014. Reflecting on the French press’s critical reception of the exhibitions, she draws attention to the lack of any commentary about race, which is conspicuous, as Mapplethorpe’s nudes are exclusively of black men, often with large or erect genitalia. Despite the exhibitions’ staid institutional frames and their reliance on external (often corporate) funding, the problematic aspects of the work’s racial and sexual politics cannot be willed away by containment within the walls of the museum. Whatever the transgressive or subversive capacities that one might identify in these photographs, given their highly aestheticized presentation and museological placement, the presentation is deprived of any critical potential, congealing it in its own fetishistic universe in which the black male body and the luxury object are seamlessly united.

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