Member Mondays at LACMA: Robert Mapplethorpe & Reigning Men

This Monday, Jason and I attended our first Member Mondays event at LACMA to see the Robert Mapplethorpe, Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear, and Physical: Sex and the Body in the 1980s exhibits. Needless to say, they were *best Larry David imitation* pretty, pretty impressive. 

Member Mondays at LACMA: Robert Mapplethorpe & Reigning Men

Thanks to my lovely mother-in-law (I love you, Melinda!), Jason and I have member passes to LACMA for the majority of 2016 (one of the many reasons 2016 has been one of the best years for us as a couple and individuals). Had it not been for her, we would never have been able to afford the membership ourselves which, in a strange way leads me to my next point: yes, it’s expensive but it is worth every penny. A LACMA membership means member previews of exhibits (you’ll never have to mix with plebeians again!), discounts at Ray’s and the LACMA store, free tickets to ticketed exhibits, and Member Mondays!

LACMA Member Mondays, check it out at
Shhh… We’re trying something different here. Go with it.

So this Monday marked our first Member Monday with previews to exhibits Robert Mapplethorpe, Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear and Physical: Sex and the Body in the 1980s.

Before I get on to the exhibits, can we take a moment to appreciate the beauty and wonder that is the LACMA? From my first visit there, which was a high school trip to the absolutely breathtaking and incredible Magritte and Contemporary Art: The Treachery of Images exhibit in 2006, to my return with my lovely husband by my side last year, the LACMA continues to be one of the best, most expansive museums I’ve ever visited.

If you’re unfamiliar with the LACMA, it’s the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and holds a permanent collection consisting of over 130,000 works that span various time periods from various artists hailing from various countries. In addition to the LACMA’s great permanent collection, the exhibits featured are top-notch, one-of-a-kind, holy-shit,-this-is-awesome exhibits that put this museum in the upper echelon of cultural institutions to put on your bucket list (talk about run-on sentence, right?). So, on to the exhibits…

Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear (1715 – 2015)

Where does one even begin with the excessive display of detail, wealth, and luxury that is the Reigning Men exhibit? This exhibit is cool; like, I thought the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit at the DeYoung Museum in 2012 was cool, but this exhibit completely blows anything I’ve ever seen out of the water. What was initially considered as the appetizer to the meal (Mapplethorpe), Reigning Men pleasantly surprised us with its extensive, impressive display of momentous trends in men’s fashion from 1715 to 2015. Within each era of dress is a modern take on the trend by renowned designers such as Vivienne Westwood, Tom Ford, Jeremy Scott, and more.

Needless to say, the pieces featured in the collection were absolutely beautiful.

1700s | Reigning Men: Men's Fashionwear at LACMA , check it out at
1700s | Reigning Men: Men’s Fashionwear at LACMA

The jacket below was one of my favorite pieces. I love the distressed detailing, pins and story behind this jacket that survived from the British punk uprising of the ’70s (or was the jacket from the ’80s?)? Either way, it’s a beautiful piece of work and seminal in the progression of men’s fashion. Next to this piece was a Helmut Lang jacket from his 2004 collection which was just as beautiful (albeit much, much more expensive), but could not outshine the authenticity of the preserved artifact below.

Punk Fashion | Reigning Men: Mens Fashionwear at LACMA, check it out at
British punk leather jacket. | Reigning Men: Men’s Fashionwear at LACMA

The colors and fabric of these shirts is unlike anything I have ever seen. While you’re not allowed to touch, the way the colors reflect in the gallery’s soft lighting makes it seem as if the shirts were fragile watercolor paintings instead of articles to be worn by mere human beings. Musa-Shiya is credited as being the first designer to make and sell Hawaiian shirts crafted out of old kimonos. The shirt on the right was made in 1952; as for the shirt on the left, well, isn’t looking at it enough?

Musashiya Hawaiian Shirts | Reigning Men: Men's Fashionwear, check it out at
Musashiya Hawaiian shirts. | Reigning Men: Men’s Fashionwear at LACMA

This exhibit is on display until August 21st, so reserve a day for checking out these beautiful pieces.

Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium

Robert Mapplethorpe self-portrait, 1972 | Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium, check it out at
Self-portrait, 1972 | Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium at LACMA

The Perfect Medium is the perfect way to get to know Robert Mapplethorpe, the photographer known for his relationship with Patti Smith and highly-controversial subject matter that revealed the underground sexual fetishist culture in New York, amongst many other things. For those new to his work, The Perfect Medium is the abridged version of the Mapplethorpe encyclopedia, and includes everything from his early drawings, sculptures, and Polaroids to the structured, black and white portraits that are characteristic of his eye; for those who are Mapplethorpe connoisseurs, it will be like walking through a scrapbook filled with warm feelings that illicit sharp memories of one’s adolescence, adulthood, fears, presumptions… all of those feelings will be brought up as you stroll the galleries of Mapplethorpe’s mind. What’s striking about Mapplethorpe’s work is his ability to shake the status quo’s foundation by confronting them with their fears. In a series of shots, the viewer is confronted with close ups of big, muscular, handsome black men in imposing poses that signify strength, sexual dominance, and power. We are also confronted with portraits of black men’s penises, semi- and fully-erect which forces us to question, or at least confront, the long-held notion of what a “black guy’s dick” looks like and how we feel when it’s shoved in our faces.

Mapplethorpe takes taboo subjects like sexual fetishists and presents them in domicile settings (Brian Ridley & Lyle Heeter), questioning the notion of who a traditional family is; he takes strong, black men and photographs them in classicist poses, again questioning society’s definition of “Caucasian as beautiful.” While there is the element of sexual superiority in regards to Mapplethorpe’s ouevre of black men that casts a shadow upon the natural beauty of the photograph’s light for some viewers, the men in classicist poses always looked regal, collected, and self-assured to me.

It’s difficult not to lose yourself in the world Mapplethorpe creates in every photo; a world in which there is perfection in form , in which the body’s beauty and power radiates through its simplicity and innate sexuality; a world in which a current of energy runs along every curve of our bodies, begging to be exposed. That’s the world Mapplethorpe created with his work. The Perfect Medium captures Mapplethorpe’s devotion to and curiosity with classic techniques dedicated to structure, patience and detail. Mapplethorpe wanted to capture the madness of the world and so he did.

The exhibit runs until July 31st, so be sure to catch it!

LACMA: Mapplethorpe & Reigning Men: Men's Fashionwear, check it out at

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