THOMAS AND DOVANNA is a highly complex and mature piece from a monumentally important body of work that was created at the apex of Robert Mapplethorpes career. In 1987, Mapplethorpe made a body of unique photographic constructions that consisted of images that were printed in platinum onto either canvas or linen, and subsequently stretched and framed into either a single panel, diptych or triptych format. THOMAS AND DOVANNA has been included in several major exhibitions and retrospectives of Mapplethorpes works, including: Whitney Museum of American Art, Robert Mapplethorpe, July 28-October 23, 1988, University of Pennsylvania, The Perfect Moment, December 9, 1988- June 14, 1990 and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sapporo, Robert Mapplethorpe Retrospective, August 24- September 25, 2002.
There has been much discussion about Mapplethorpes relationship with Catholicism (he was raised in a middle class Catholic family in Queens, NY), and its influence on his work. In THOMAS AND DOVANNA, the triptych format, frequently associated with altarpieces, has been employed to genius effect, providing a backdrop for a series of juxtapositions and references with which the work has been imbued. In addition, the symmetry of the triptych format lends itself perfectly in this case not only to the classically formalist tradition to which Mapplethorpe subscribed, but also to the subtle manipulation of the relationship of the physical construction of the piece with the central image.
The subject of the center panel, a highly sexually charged image of a black male nude engaged in a waltz with a white woman in a flowing white evening dress, encompasses issues synonymous with Mapplethorpes oeuvre sex, race, class and power. Upon further study of the work as a whole, it becomes clear that each of the elements have been cleverly utilized by Mapplethorpe to reference and reinforce the power of the center panel. For example, the two exterior panels of the triptych consist of white silk and are set against the smooth, power of a black, heavy wooden frame - perhaps a subtle reference Thomas body and the white silk of Dovannas flowing white dress. THOMAS AND DOVANNA combines, in an ultra sophisticated manner, key issues that were central to Mapplethorpes work, and result in a monumentally charged work on a multitude of levels.
In the exhibition catalogue for the recent exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, Robert Mapplethorpe and The Classical Tradition, Photographs and Mannerist Prints, THOMAS AND DOVANNA is described as a ..sphere of pure form, geometrical balance of beauty expressed in bodily plasticity, removing all contradictions between good and evil, darkness and light, male and female, night and day, real and invented. In the sphere of ideal form there are no oppositions; everything has been calculated and balanced, but that balance is so fine, so fantastical, that the slightest puff will blow it away," (Arkady Ippolitov, 2004, p. 22)