The ‘Man in Polyester Suit’ – showing a man with his penis exposed – was impounded by customs officials in London ahead of an exhibition in 1983.
However, the contentious photo fetched $478,000 (around £312,000) at a Sotheby’s auction in New York – easily surpassing its presale estimate of $250,000-$300,000.
The rare, signed 18x14in print of ‘Man in Polyester Suit’ was created in 1980 at the height of a career that began when Mapplethorpe was given a Polaroid camera in 1971.
‘The subject of ‘Man in Polyester Suit’ is Mapplethorpe’s lover Milton Moore, with whom he had a tempestuous and ultimately doomed relationship,’ explained Sotheby’s.
‘It is a testament to Mapplethorpe’s talent that out of the messiness of his physical and emotional entanglement with Moore he could create this technically perfect, highly stylised and cheekily transgressive image…
‘In a body of work generally considered controversial, ‘Man in Polyester Suit’ was, from the start, one of Mapplethorpe’s most conspicuous images.
‘It was exhibited in no fewer than 20 international museum and gallery venues during his lifetime.’
These venues included London’s Institute of Contemporary Art. Sotheby’s continued: ‘The photograph was famously impounded by customs officials at Heathrow Airport upon its arrival in London for that exhibition, along with Mapplethorpe’s portrait of artist Louise Bourgeois holding a phallic sculpture.’