Art History’s Best Mustaches: Robert Mapplethorpe’s Chain- and Leather-Clad Couple


Inexplicably, as we near the end of our second annual month-long series highlighting art history’s best mustaches in observance of the male cancer awareness campaign Movember, we have yet to feature an intensely sexual mustache — not to diminish how improbably awesome Adrian Piper looks sporting a ‘stache. By way of compensating for this lack, today’s entry is a very sexually charged yet extremely funny and playful Robert Mapplethorpe portrait of Brian Ridley and Lyle Heeter in full leather gear complete with a chains, shackles, and a whip.

The photograph, simply titled “Brian Ridley and Lyle Heeter” (1979) and held in the Tate‘s collection, shows the leather-clad, chain-linked pair holding a very formal pose in a comically incongruous bourgeois domestic interior, complete with antique vases and assorted tchotchkes to one side and a parodically masculine reindeer antler side table on the other. The contrast between the photo’s subjects and what, presumably, is their home, suggests a kind of double life, with conventional (stuffy, even) tastes on display in their living room, while they engage in more subcultural rituals in the bedroom.

While the couple’s submissive member appears clean-shaven, the dominant partner sports a textbook short boxed beard — and, from what we can tell, traces of some seriously thick chest hair. No word on whether or not a print of this photo is also in the permanent collection of the Robert Mapplethorpe Children’s Museum.


— Benjamin Sutton (@bhsutton)

(Image: Robert Mapplethorpe, “Brian Ridley and Lyle Heeter,” 1979; All Mapplethorpe works © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Via Tate.)