BOOKS: THE CLINICIAN OF EXCESS

AS A NEW BIOGRAPHY SHOWS, THE LIFE OF ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE, LIKE HIS X-RATED PHOTOGRAPHS, WAS NOT A PRETTY PICTURE

Oscar Wilde once remarked that he had given his genius to his life but only his talent to his art. The same might be said of the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, only his life turned out to be a sad and sordid affair and his art was often no more than slapdash. As Patricia Morrisroe makes clear in her smart and readable biography Mapplethorpe (Random House; 461 pages; $27.50), the photographer's brief life-like his most notorious images-was not a pretty picture.

The artist, who died of AIDS in 1989, was a creature of painful contradictions. Heralded as the premier technical photographer of...

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