In the thirty years since his death, Robert Mapplethorpe (1946–1989) has become a cultural icon. One of the most critically acclaimed and controversial American artists of the late twentieth century, Mapplethorpe is widely known for daring imagery that deliberately transgresses social mores, and for the censorship debates that transpired around his work in the United States during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Yet the driving force behind his artistic ethos was an obsession with perfection that he brought to bear on his approach to each of his subjects.
In 1993, the Guggenheim received a generous gift of approximately two hundred photographs and unique objects from the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, initiating the museum’s photography collection. Today, the Guggenheim celebrates the sustained legacy of the artist’s work with a yearlong exhibition program conceived in two sequential parts and presented in the museum’s Mapplethorpe Gallery on Tower Level 4.
The first part of Implicit Tensions (January 25–July 10, 2019) features highlights from the Guggenheim’s in-depth Mapplethorpe holdings, including early Polaroids, collages, and mixed-media constructions; iconic, classicizing photographs of male and female nudes; floral still lifes; portraits of artists, celebrities, and acquaintances; explicit depictions of New York’s underground S&M scene; and searingly honest self-portraits.
The second part of Implicit Tensions (July 24, 2019–January 5, 2020) will address Mapplethorpe’s complex legacy in the field of contemporary art. A focused selection of his photographs will be on view alongside works by artists in the Guggenheim’s collection, including Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Lyle Ashton Harris, Glenn Ligon, Zanele Muholi, Catherine Opie, and Paul Mpagi Sepuya.
This exhibition is organized by Lauren Hinkson, Associate Curator, Collections, and Susan Thompson, Associate Curator, with Levi Prombaum, Curatorial Assistant, Collections.