In 1986, the non-commercial, privately funded organization Artspace commissioned nine artists--seven painters, one sculptor and the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe to each produce a screen--a freestanding room divider. Along with an existing screen by Ed Ruscha, these were included in the 'Paravent' exhibition at Artspace in San Francisco. As noted in the catalogue, 'This exhibit provides a new look at an ancient form usually associated with the Orient. ... The screen exists as an object and a metaphor. It separates space within a space and presents artists with special challenges and limitations.'
The Mapplethorpe screen is a perfect blending of form and function. It pairs flowers with nudes--male on one side, female on the other and alternates opaque fabric panels with smoked glass mirrors. By reflecting parts of the room, it avoids the appearance of an impenetrable barrier. The combination of elements allude to narcissism, death and eroticism. This screen is a unique object in Mapplethorpe's oeuvre.