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Portraits: Works by Mapplethorpe, Curtis, and Tunney

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Robert Mapplethorpe, "Roy Cohn", 1981.  15" x 15 1/8"

This original flush-mounted photograph is titled, dated, numbered 3/10, and inscribed "MAP 608". It carries the photographer's estate stamp, signed and dated by Michael Ward Stout, Executor of the Mapplethorpe Estate, in ink on the reverse, matted, 1981. Roy Cohn, the subject of the photograph, was one of the great gay/antigay icons in the United States. Mapplethorpe's image captures Cohn as the dark, malevolent presence who haunted and shadowed American culture, starting with his days as Senator Joseph McCarthy's lead attorney during the Red Scare of the 1950s. Although he had been "outed" decades before and made little effort to hide his lifestyle, he continued to officially deny his homosexuality until his death from AIDS in 1986.


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About the Artist:  Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) was born in Queens, New York. In 1963, Mapplethorpe enrolled at Pratt Institute where he studied drawing, painting, sculpture, and experimented with various materials in mixed-media collages. He acquired a Polaroid camera in 1970 and began producing his own photographs to incorporate into the collages. In 1973, the Light Gallery in NYC mounted his first solo gallery exhibition, "Polaroids." Two years later, he acquired a Hasselblad medium-format camera and began shooting his circle of friends and acquaintances -- artists, musicians, socialites, pornographic films stars, and members of the S&M underground. He also worked on commercial projects, creating album cover art for Patti Smith and a series of portraits and party pictures for Interview magazine. In the late 1970s, Mapplethorpe became interested in documenting the S&M scene in NYC; the resulting photographs are shocking for their content and remarkable for their technical mastery. Throughout the 1980s, Mapplethorpe produced images that simultaneously challenge and adhere to classical aesthetic standards: stylized compositions of male and female nudes, delicate flower still lifes, and studio portraits of artists and celebrities. He introduced and refined different techniques and formats, including 20" x 24" Polaroids, photogravures, platinum prints on paper and linen, Cibachrome and dye transfer color prints. In 1986, Mapplethorpe was diagnosed with AIDS, but despite his illness, he accelerated his creative efforts and accepted increasingly challenging commissions. The Whitney Museum of American Art mounted his first major American museum retrospective in 1988, one year before his death in 1989. Beyond the artistic and social significance of his work, his legacy lives on through the work of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, which he established in 1988 to promote photography, support museums that exhibit photographic art, and fund medical research in the fight against AIDS and HIV-related infection.


Edward S. Curtis, "Yellow Kidney - Piegan", 1910. 24" x 31"

This photogravure is from Portfolio 6 of Curtis' multi-volume work, The North American Indian. Includes a letter of authenticity, dated August, 3, 2004 by Flurry & Company LTD Seattle WA. Matted and displayed in a hand-made and carved wooden frame. Yellow Kidney, a member of the Peigan Blackfoot tribe, is seen wearing a war bonnet made of wolf skin.


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About the Artist: Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952) was born in 1868 in Wisconsin and moved to Minnesota where he became interested in photography and soon constructed his own camera and learned how to process the prints. At 17, he became an apprentice photographer in St. Paul. The family moved near Seattle, Washington, where Edward purchased a second camera and bought a half-interest in a photographic studio. In 1898,Curtis encountered a noted Indian expert, who became interested in Curtis’ work and invited him to photograph the Blackfeet Indian people in Montana two years later. It was there that Curtis practiced and developed the photographic skills and project methodology that would guide his lifetime of work among the other Indian tribes.

One of Curtis’ major goals was to record as much of the people’s way of traditional life as possible. In 1900 and continuing over the next thirty years, Curtis took over 40,000 images from over 80 tribes, recorded tribal mythologies and history, and described tribal population, traditional foods, biographical sketches and other primary source information. Extending the same principle to the photographs, he presented his subjects in a traditional way whenever possible. These efforts provided extended pleasure to the elders and preserve a rare view of the earlier ways of the people. He captured the likeness of many important and well-known Indian people of that time, including Geronimo, Chief Joseph, Red Cloud, Medicine Crow and others. This monumental accomplishment is comprised of more than 2,200 sepia toned photogravures bound in twenty volumes of written information and small images and twenty portfolios of larger artistic representations.

With the publication of Volume 20 in 1930, the years of struggle finally took their toll with Curtis suffering a physical and nervous breakdown. The declining interest in the American Indian, the Great Depression, and other negative forces slowed, then halted the successful financial completion of the project. Less than 300 sets of The North American Indian were sold. Curtis spent the remaining years of his life in Los Angeles and died on October 21, 1952.

Peter Tunney, "Goldie Meets Mr. Curtis", 2003. 22" x 33"

This giant Polaroid has been double exposed to transpose an image of the artist's ex-girlfriend "Goldie" over of a portrait by Edward S. Curtis of "Yellow Kidney". The Polaroid is displayed in a hand-crafted driftwood frame by a frame maker in Montauk, Long Island. A pack of American Spirit cigarettes was applied to the frame by Peter Tunney the night the piece was purchased and acquired from The Time is Always Now Gallery in NYC.


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About the Artist: Peter Tunney (1961) After traversing the world, Tunney was drawn back to his roots to start his next exploration into the fine arts when he returned to New York City in 2002. His various roles through life and careers have been a journey to find meaning. His oeuvre includes works in photography, painting, installation, and performance.  Tunney became well known for his use of positive text as the central, graphic element in his work, repositioning already popular phrases such as "Don’t Panic" and  "Grattitude." His photographic process when with models, friends and artists and the Giant Polaroid camera is powered by the uniqueness each image holds. Some are double exposure of the images. Others include collage imagery from a wide variety of sources, painting reproductions, newspaper photographs or early photographs of his own. Tunney defines his process further by saying that he will often collage and paint on the 20x24 image, scan it and print an enlarged version for painting scale. His most recent show, GIANT GIANT POLAROID, is Tunney's exploration with photography - or as he refers to it PTography. His choice of the Giant Polaroid parallels the unique experience his fine art conveys. Peter says he has found the "last magical miracle in photography" in this 20 inch x 24 inch wood box camera from the late 1970's. The artist's latest obsessions, in addition to the Giant Giant Polaroids, are collecting all the evidence of his last 50 years and integrating all the actual objects into his photography and paintings. His work has been included in exhibitions and private collections around the world, and he is currently represented by Pop International Galleries.