World of Wonder’s founding fathers Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey are featured in The New York Times for their new documentary premiering today at the Sundance Film Festival, Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures! The documentary, which includes interviews with former assistants, boyfriends and art world personalities, is planned to coincide with a major Mapplethorpe retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the nearby J. Paul Getty Museum.
During the interview, Barbato and Bailey discuss their intentions with the documentary, how their feelings toward Robert Mapplethorpe evolved during the film’s production, and more. Here’s an excerpt:
Q. To what degree is this film about reclaiming Mapplethorpe’s spot in art history?
Mr. Bailey. We wanted to understand him better. The controversy surrounding his work cast such a long shadow over it. Only now, more than two decades after he died, can you really look at him through a clear lens.
Mr. Barbato. Like the title of the film says, it’s time to actually look at the pictures and decide for yourself whether this is an artist worthy of long-term attention. We both think he is really important. But you may not understand that until you sit back and look at his pictures and also at his life.
Mr. Bailey. In some ways his life was his ultimate work of art.
Mr. Barbato. One of the interesting things about Mapplethorpe is that we know him as a photographer, but he was really a documentarian. Certainly the photographs that he’s most famous for are the ones where he’s documenting.
Q. There is that fantastic moment in the film when you show a museum curator delicately putting on gloves and handling his grimy Mineshaft membership card.
Mr. Bailey. There is something so fetishistic about their handling of it. The putting on of the rubber gloves. Archival fetishism, I guess.
Q. Your film is definitely not hagiography. He comes off as a vicious narcissist. Did you come away liking him or despising him? As a person.
Mr. Barbato. I was very conflicted. One day I would hate him, one day I’d be in awe.
Mr. Bailey. For large periods of this film I didn’t like him at all. But his honesty was so admirable. He didn’t give a monkey. He wasn’t in the closet for a moment, and he doggedly pursued photography when it wasn’t considered an art, and taking photos of people having sex was certainly not seen as art. You can’t not admire that.
Read the rest here, and don’t miss the HBO premiere of Mapplethorpe: Look At The Pictures on April 4.