(NEW YORK, NY—July 24, 2019)—From July 24 through January 5, 2020, the Solomon R.
Guggenheim Museum presents Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now, the second part of a yearlong
exhibition exploring the legacy of Robert Mapplethorpe (1946–1989). One of the most critically
acclaimed yet controversial American artists of the late 20th century, Mapplethorpe is widely known for
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.
In the ensuing decades, artists and critics have grappled with Mapplethorpe’s legacy, raising questions
about the agency of the photographic subject and interrogating his representations of homoerotic
desire, the black male nude, and the female figure. He has simultaneously been celebrated for bringing
visibility to underrepresented communities and critiqued for objectifying his sitters. Endeavoring to
reflect these complex conversations, and to honor Mapplethorpe’s critical contribution to the art of his
time, this exhibition showcases the work of six artists in the Guggenheim collection who 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).
Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now is organized by Lauren Hinkson, Associate Curator, Collections,
and Susan Thompson, Associate Curator, with Levi Prombaum, Curatorial Assistant, Collections. In 1993 the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation gifted approximately two hundred photographs and
unique objects to the Guggenheim Museum, creating one of the most comprehensive public
repositories of his work. This gift initiated the formation of the Guggenheim’s Photography Council, an
acquisitions committee dedicated to actively building and strengthening the museum’s collection of art
in photography and new media. Many of these works, acquired over the past three decades, engage in
critical dialogue with the themes, provocations, and formal approaches evident in Mapplethorpe’s
ouevre. Thirty years after the artist’s death in 1989, Implicit Tensions demonstrates the impact of
Mapplethorpe both as a catalyst of the development of the Guggenheim’s photography collection and
as a touchstone for artists working in contemporary portraiture and self-representation.
Following the first part of the presentation, on view from January 25–July 10, which explored the depth
of the museum’s Mapplethorpe holdings, the second part of Implicit Tensions offers select highlights
from the artist’s early Polaroids; iconic, classicizing nudes; flowers; self-portraits; and images of the S&M
underground scene.
Working in the 1980s, Rotimi Fani-Kayode produced within a short career a body of photography
exploring his hybrid, transnational identity as a gay diasporic African.His portraits incorporate symbolism
and iconography from his Yoruba heritage into potent celebrations of spirituality, homoeroticism, and
the black male figure.
The photographs and installations of Lyle Ashton Harris probe the nuances of identity and belonging
through performative self-presentation. His work offers multilayered ruminations on—and subversions
of—ethnicity, gender, and sexual desire. The selection on view includes examples of Harris’ practice
from the late 1990s through the present, including works in which Harris has assembled personal
imagery and cultural ephemera into complex collages.
Conceptual artist Glenn Ligon appropriates text and images, transforming them into works that critique
the ways race and sexuality shape the visual field. Created in the years after Mapplethorpe’s death,
Notes on the Margin of the Black Book (1991–93) presents framed pages excised from a copy of The
Black Book (1986), alongside a range of quotations from across the cultural spectrum, making the
dialogues around Mapplethorpe’s work as visible the images themselves.
As a self-described visual activist, Zanele Muholi has been dedicated to promoting awareness of
lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex communities in South Africa. Muholi’s
photography foregrounds the diversity, possibility, and joy of these groups while also commemorating
the stigmatization, violence, and loss endured by friends and family in the artist’s home country and
globally. On view is a rich selection of Muholi’s portraiture of queer community, as well as self-
portraiture exploring archetypical alter egos that offer powerful emblems of beauty.
Catherine Opie’s body of work in photography explores notions of communal, sexual, and cultural
identity. Her formally pristine images illuminate the conditions in which communities form and the terms
by which they are defined. On view in this selection are works from her O portfolio (1999).