Another Mapplethorpe Controversy, This Time Over Shadowy Prints

Late last year, Mark Dickstein sent two Mapplethorpe photographs that he owns to Christie’s to see about selling them in an upcoming auction. The 40-year-old head of an investment management firm had purchased the photographs–one was of a calla lily and the other was of a bunch of tulips in a vase–in 1994 from the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation through Robert Miller Gallery, which was then the agent for the foundation. They were both platinum prints.

Mr. Dickstein does not consider himself an art collector, but he purchased a large apartment on East End Avenue for $5.8 million–formerly occupied by arbitrageur Asher Edelman–and he has a lot of wall space to contend with.

In January, Mr. Dickstein received a call from Leila Hill Buckjune, an expert in Christie’s photography department. She informed him that the Mapplethorpe prints have flaws in them–faint shadows in the margins. He was told the defect would lower the sale price of the prints. Mr. Dickstein took them back from Christie’s and contacted Howard Read, who had been the photography specialist at Miller when he purchased the prints. Mr. Read is a co-owner of the Cheim & Read gallery, which now represents the Mapplethorpe Foundation.

Mr. Read gave Mr. Dickstein the name of the man who printed the photographs, Sal Lopes in Boston, and reassured him that the problem would be rectified. “I was told by Howard Read that there was a problem in the development process. The image kept exposing after it was printed. Why that happened I have no idea, but Howard informed me that it clearly had nothing to do with the way the pictures were stored,” said Mr. Dickstein.

He wants the foundation to either return his initial investment of $50,000 or give him two comparable prints without flaws. As the president of Dickstein Partners, he is used to taking action quickly and has grown tired of waiting for the foundation to respond. On June 3, Mr. Dickstein wrote to Mr. Read, threatened to hire a lawyer and accused the foundation of selling him flawed merchandise. “I can assure you that once I have been forced to go through the hassle of hiring an attorney … it will be far more difficult to amicably resolve this situation,” he wrote.

On June 4, Michael Ward Stout, the attorney for the Mapplethorpe Foundation, wrote to Mr. Dickstein to say that the Mapplethorpe Estate has been conducting an investigation into all of its platinum prints to determine the source of the problem. They have concluded that none of the other platinum prints owned by the foundation have the same problem as Mr. Dickstein’s. Still, they are going to investigate the situation further. “While we are currently having these prints examined by one of New York’s leading experts in works on paper, we have not ruled out the conclusion that these prints were damaged either by the way in which they were exhibited or by the facility at which they were kept,” Mr. Stout wrote. He also suggested that Mr. Dickstein contact an attorney to ascertain the legality of the threats he made in his letter to Mr. Read.

Mr. Stout concluded by assuring Mr. Dickstein that “the Mapplethorpe organization will accept whatever responsibility, if any, it has in this matter.” But Mr. Dickstein was not reassured by Mr. Stout’s letter. He was angered by it. He feels that since the printer has admitted that the problem was caused in the printing, the matter should be closed and settled.

When contacted by The Observer , the printer, Mr. Lopes, said that Mapplethorpe himself had supplied him with the paper for the platinum prints. He had warned the artist that the type of paper he wanted him to use for the prints might be problematic in the future. “It was paper that Robert brought to me,” said Mr. Lopes. “I usually supply the paper, but he insisted on having me use that kind of paper. I told him that the paper had too much tooth–it was too porous, and the chemicals would not wash off altogether, which could cause later problems.”

Marisa Cardinale, a consultant to the Mapplethorpe Foundation, pointed out that in determining the cause of the imperfection, the foundation was not relying on Mr. Lopes. “He is hardly a disinterested party,” said Ms. Cardinale. “He has his reputation at stake, and what does he do? He blames the dead man, who is not around to defend himself.” (Mapplethorpe died of AIDS in 1989.) “We have had two experts look at them who have nonconclusive opinions. They don’t know what it is. Now we are going to use an expert that we use regularly to give us a third opinion.

“You have to be careful when you use the word flaw,” Ms. Cardinale counseled. “Flaw implies something made, not created. A possibility is that there is something in the environment they were in.

“What we have here,” concluded Ms. Cardinale, “is someone who wants an immediate solution to a complicated, time-involved problem.”

David LaChapelle at Shafrazi

During the early 1980’s, when David LaChapelle was working as a busboy at Studio 54, he used to sneak into openings at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in SoHo to see his idols: Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat. On June 4, Mr. LaChapelle, who is one of the most successful photographers in the world, had his dream come true when the first show of his work opened at the Shafrazi Gallery on Wooster Street. ThroughSept.15,hisphotographs of Madonna, Leonardo DiCaprio, Uma Thurman, Elton John and Cher, in surreal settings that would have pleased Magritte and Fellini, his two other idols, are on view in the gallery.

“How it happened is pretty amazing,” said Mr. LaChapelle. “We were shooting Naomi Campbell for Playboy and she called up Tony and said, if you want to see me naked come over now, and he came over and we just started talking about pictures and the reasons I do them and stuff,” said Mr. LaChapelle, 35, who still has the wide-eyed quality that led Andy Warhol to hire him to photograph for Interview when he was 18. “We talked for hours and hours and then he called me a few days later and said, I want to give you a show.”

For the June 4 opening, Mr. LaChapelle created a spectacle that he thought would have amused Warhol. He convinced Amanda Lepore, a transsexual model he has used in his photographs, to come to the gallery naked. “She came with a suntan,” Mr. LaChapelle explained. “She was wearing a tan line. That was her outfit. She had her body painted and where the bikini would have been was all white,” said Mr. LaChapelle, who has a book coming out in October, Hotel LaChapelle , from Bulfinch Press-Callaway. “I love spectacle and outrageousness,” he said.