Robert Mapplethorpe (1946–1989), one of the most critically acclaimed yet controversial American artists of the late twentieth century, is represented in great depth in the Guggenheim’s collection. In 1993 the museum received a generous gift of approximately two hundred photographs and unique objects from the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, creating one of the most comprehensive public repositories in the world of this important artist’s work. In 2019, thirty years after the artist’s death, the Guggenheim will celebrate the sustained legacy of his work with a yearlong exhibition conceived in two sequential parts in the museum’s Mapplethorpe Gallery on Tower Level 4. Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now is organized by Lauren Hinkson, Associate Curator, Collections and Susan Thompson, Associate Curator with Levi Prombaum, Curatorial Assistant, Collections.
The first phase of the exhibition will feature an installation of highlights from the Guggenheim’s rich collection of Mapplethorpe holdings, including selections from the artist’s early Polaroids, collages, and mixed-media constructions to his iconic, classicizing photographs of male and female nudes, flowers, and statuary; his portraits of artists, celebrities, and acquaintances; his more explicit depictions of the S&M underground; and some of his best-known self-portraits.
The second phase will address the artist’s resounding impact on the field of contemporary portraiture and self-representation. It will feature contemporary artists from the Guggenheim’s collection who either actively engage with and reference Mapplethorpe’s work or whose approach to picturing the body and exploring identity through portraiture finds resonances in Mapplethorpe’s oeuvre. These artists include Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Lyle Ashton Harris, Glenn Ligon, Catherine Opie, and Paul Mpagi Sepuya. This yearlong exhibition program will celebrate the full range of Mapplethorpe’s extraordinary artistic contributions as well as the impact of the Mapplethorpe Foundation’s gift on the museum’s photography collection and collecting practices.