Second Part of Yearlong Exhibition “Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now” at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum


The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York will host “Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now,” the second part of a yearlong exhibition exploring the artistic legacy of Robert Mapplethorpe (1946–1989). It opens on July 24 and runs through January 5, 2020.

Mapplethorpe was one of the most critically acclaimed yet controversial American artists of the late 20th century. He is widely known for his “daring, formally rigorous imagery that deliberately transgresses social mores and for the censorship debates that transformed him into a symbol of the culture wars of the late 1980s and early 1990s,” the museum informs.

The American photographer’s work has been instrumental in highlighting marginalized communities but also widely critiqued for objectifying his sitters. Critics and artists alike have grappled with Mapplethorpe’s oeuvre in trying to raising questions about “the agency of the photographic subject and interrogating his representations of homoerotic desire, the black male nude, and the female figure.” “Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now” aims to reflect these complex conversations at the same time honor his contribution to the art world. The exhibition features the work of six artists in the Guggenheim collection. They offer expansive approaches to exploring identity through photographic portraiture — Rotimi Fani-Kayode (b. 1955, Lagos, Nigeria; d. 1989, London), Lyle Ashton Harris (b. 1965, New York), Glenn Ligon (b. 1960, New York), Zanele Muholi (b. 1972, Umlazi, South Africa), Catherine Opie (b. 1961, Sandusky, Ohio), and Paul Mpagi Sepuya (b. 1982, San Bernardino, California).

The first part of the presentation, on view from January 25–July 10, 2019, explored the museum’s comprehensive collection of Mapplethorpe’s work. The second part features the artist’s “early Polaroids; iconic, classicizing nudes; flowers; self-portraits; and images of the S&M underground scene in New York,” the museum adds.

Rotimi Fani-Kayode working in the 1980s produced within a short career a body of photography that reflected his experiences as an outsider in both Africa and the West. His portraits reflect symbolism and iconography from his Yoruba heritage coupled with the black male figure, spirituality, and homoeroticism. Lyle Ashton Harris’ photographs, videos, and installations delve into the nuances of identity and belonging through performative self-presentation. His early “Americas” series (1987–88), provides a window to subversions of ethnicity, gender, and sexual desire. Glenn Ligon appropriates text and images and transforms them into works that critique how race and sexuality shape the visual field. Self-described visual activist Zanele Muholi’s photographs foreground the diversity, possibility, and joy of the LGBTQ communities while also looking at the stigmatization, violence, and loss faced by friends and family in the artist’s home country South Africa and across the globe. Catherine Opie’s oeuvre explores notions of communal, sexual, and cultural identity. Apart from three of the artist’s self-portraits, on view in this selection are her early portraits of queer subcultures, insightful views of domestic life, and explorations of youth, aging, and identity, as well as works from her “O” portfolio (1999), which was created as a response to Mapplethorpe’s “X Portfolio” (1978). Rounding off the list is Paul Mpagi Sepuya whose work reformulates the conventions and decorum associated with studio portraiture with images that depict his body, and that of his friends and lovers, celebrating queer community and desire.

The exhibition demonstrates the impact of Mapplethorpe’s work as a catalyst of the development of the Guggenheim’s photography collection as well as a benchmark for artists working in contemporary portraiture and self-representation, even 30 years after the artist’s death in 1989.

“Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now” runs from July 24 through January 5, 2020, at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 5th Ave, New York, NY 10128, USA.

For details, visit:

Click on the slideshow for a sneak peek at the exhibition.

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