Saturday, April 21, 2012

Album cover by artists: Robert Mapplethorpe

Laurie Anderson's fifth album, Strange Angels, from 1989, features portraits of the artist by photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, taken two years prior. Mapplethorpe died at age 42 on March 9th, 1989, seven months before the album was released. The record includes an open letter to Mapplethorpe, about the controversy that erupted in the summer of that year, when Mapplethorpe's traveling exhibition came to Washington DC. Anderson later performed a piece called "Big Black Dick" that addressed the same issues:

"Washington, D.C.? It was a town that wasn’t big enough for the senator and the artist Mapplethorpe. Yeah, Jesse [Helms] liked pictures of snowy landscapes, art that made you feel good. And Mapplethorpe? He was after big taboos, things like: What do sex and religion have in common? So the senator looked at the artist’s photographs and they were pictures of men with no clothes. And there were lots of chains and black leather and crosses. But the picture that bothered the senator the most was a very large black dick sticking out of a business suit. So he made a law that said:

WE’RE NOT GOING TO LOOK AT THIS, AND YOU’RE NOT GOING TO LOOK AT IT EITHER…And the issue of control, who controls what, has started to blend in with a whole new brand of puritanism."

Mapplethorpe's portraits of Patti Smith famously adorned her first few albums, and other bands who have used his photography on their album covers include The Swans, Scissor Sisters, Television and the Philip Glass Ensemble.

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