The picture, which features what is clearly a dark-skinned man wearing a 3-piece polyester suit with his penis hanging out out of the fly of the pants, has been analyzed as many things, but is clearly a signature piece of homoerotic art and a blunt representation of (black) masculinity.
This is how the Times describes it:
“Man in Polyester Suit,” a black-and-white image from 1980 depicting a black man wearing a three-piece suit, with his penis exposed, was estimated at $250,000 to $350,000.
The image helped touch off a cultural conflagration in 1989 when Senator Jesse Helms cited it among examples of “filthy art” which had received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.
“Man in Polyester Suit” was also part of a show of Mapplethorpe works that led to criminal obscenity charges against the director of Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center. (He was acquitted in 1990.) The decidedly not-safe-for-work image, which cannot be reproduced here, can be easily found through a search engine.
In subsequent years the image has come to be seen as a key Mapplethorpe work, touching on issues of race, class and sexual stereotypes.Even though my personal blog is flagged as pornography by some search engines, I am not comfortable with posting the uncensored image, which you can find easily in any search engine, or at this link. It's quite an image!
Hat/tip to Arts Beat