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Robert Mapplethorpe's Implicit Tensions, Then and Now, Soon at the Guggenheim

  • Robert Mapplethorpe - Patti Smith
December 23, 2018
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

One of the most controversial American photographers of the 1980s, Robert Mapplethorpe managed to express himself while exploring his sexual fantasies/fetishes and admiration for the human (male) body. Just a couple of years after his death, exhibitions of his works were censored and even banned which tell much about the subversiveness of Mapplethorpe’s practice. Even today, his works are welcomed with different reactions largely because of the fact that sex (especially same-sex intercourse) is still a taboo.

At The Guggenheim Museum, starting this winter there will be a yearlong exhibition of the extraordinary photographer’s work consisting of two parts under the title Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now.

Left Robert Mapplethorpe - Self Portrait Right Robert Mapplethorpe - Ajitto
Left: Robert Mapplethorpe – Self Portrait, 1985. Gelatin silver print, A.P. 2/2 image: 39.1 x 39.1 cm; sheet: 50.8 x 40.6 cm. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Gift, The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission / Right: Robert Mapplethorpe – Ajitto, 1981. Gelatin silver print, 45.6 x 35.6 cm. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Gift, The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission.

Mapplethorpe, Then and Now

The curatorial team consisting of Lauren Hinkson, Susan Thompson, and Levi Prombau decided to focus on the finest selection of excerpts from the largest collection of Robert Mapplethorpe’s works (around two hundred photographs and unique objects) which was received by the museum as a gift from the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation in 1993.

Interestingly so, this gift sparked the development of the museum’s photography collection and the Photography Council, an acquisitions committee dedicated to gathering photography and new media for museum’s collection. Therefore, this exhibition will also reveal the influence of the Mapplethorpe Foundation’s gift on the museum’s photography collection.

Left Robert Mapplethorpe - Untitled
Left: Robert Mapplethorpe – Untitled, 1973. Six dye diffusion transfer prints (Polaroids), in painted plastic mounts and acrylic frame, 9.5 x 7.3 cm each; 27.6 x 28.7 cm overall. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Gift, The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission / Right: Robert Mapplethorpe – Ken and Tyler, 1985. Platinum print, edition 2/3, 59.4 x 49.7 cm; sheet: 65.7 x 56.5 cm. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Gift, The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission.

The Installment

The first part of the upcoming exhibition at The Guggenheim will include an installation of highlights from the Guggenheim’s rich collection of Mapplethorpe artworks. The audience will be able to see the artist’s early Polaroids, collages, mixed-media constructions, as well as his iconic photographs of male and female nudes, flowers. On display will also be portraits of artists, celebrities, and acquaintances, explicit depictions of the S&M underground, and some of Mapplethorpe’s best-known self-portraits.

The second part will be focused on the impact Mapplethorpe made on the field of contemporary portraiture and self-representation. In order to contextualize his work properly, the curators decided to include a selection of contemporary artists from the Guggenheim’s collection who collaborated with Mapplethorpe or were directly influenced by his work. The works of Lyle Ashton Harris, Catherine Opie, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Glenn Ligon, Zanele Muholi, and Paul Mpagi Sepuya will be shown.

Left Robert Mapplethorpe - Louise Bourgeois Right Robert Mapplethorpe - Lisa Lyon
Left: Robert Mapplethorpe – Louise Bourgeois, 1982. Gelatin silver print, edition 9/10, 15 5/16 x 15 1/4 inches; Framed: 25 5/8 x 25 1/4 x 1 1/4 inches. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Gift, The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission / Right: Robert Mapplethorpe – Lisa Lyon, 1982. Gelatin silver print, A.P. 2/2, 50.8 x 40.6 cm. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Gift, The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission.

Robert Mapplethorpe at The Guggenheim Museum

Finally, this exhibition project certainly reflects how significant in historical terms Mapplethorpe’s multilayered practice is. The artist did not only introduced a different aesthetical and formal approach, rather by featuring unconventional sexual practices, wondrous and exotic shapes of flowers, social misfits he also used his lens as a tool for social and political struggle.

Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now will be on display at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in two parts – the first one from 25 January until 10 July 2019, and the second one from 24 July 2019 until 5 January 2020.

Featured image: Robert Mapplethorpe – Patti Smith, 1976. Gelatin silver print mounted on board, A.P. 1/2, 50.8 x 40.6 cm. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Gift, The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission. All images courtesy The Guggenheim Museum.