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Robert Mapplethorpe and His Impact on Contemporary Photography

25 January

Robert Mapplethorpe

Yearlong Exhibition in Two Parts Celebrates Robert Mapplethorpe’s  Sustained Legacy

Robert Mapplethorpe will be, once again, one of the protagonists of the 2019 art scenery: the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum will present a yearlong exhibition conceived in two sequential parts, honouring the groundbreaking work and sustained legacy of Robert Mapplethorpe (1946–1989), one of the most critically acclaimed yet controversial American artists of the late twentieth century.

The Guggenheim Museum holds one of the most comprehensive public repositories of the work of Robert Mapplethorpe in the world, having received a generous gift of approximately two hundred photographs and unique objects from the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation in 1993.

This gift also catalyzed the development of the museum’s photography collection and inaugurated the Photography Council, an acquisitions committee dedicated to actively building and strengthening the Guggenheim’s collection of work in photography and new media by both established and emerging artists.

Robert Mapplethorpe
Robert Mapplethorpe. Calla Lily, 1986. Gelatin silver print, 48.9 x 49.1 cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Gift, The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation 93.4302 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission

Thirty years after the artist’s death, Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now celebrates 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 exhibition program.

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; iconic, classicizing photographs of male and female nudes, flowers, and statuary; portraits of artists, celebrities, and acquaintances; explicit depictions of the S&M underground; and some of Mapplethorpe’s best-known self-portraits.

The second phase will address the artist’s resounding impact on the field of contemporary portraiture and self-representation and aims to reflect the many complex conversations surrounding Mapplethorpe’s work that have arisen over the past three decades.

In addition to a focused selection of Mapplethorpe photographs, the second phase will also 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 with Mapplethorpe’s formal and social strategies.

These artists include Rotimi Fani-Kayode (b. 1955, Lagos, Nigeria; d. 1989, London), Lyle Ashton Harris (b. 1965, Bronx, NY), Glenn Ligon (b. 1960, Bronx, NY), Zanele Muholi (b. 1972, Umlazi, South Africa), Catherine Opie (b. 1961, Sandusky, OH), and Paul Mpagi Sepuya (b. 1982, San Bernardino, CA).

The Leadership Committee for Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now is gratefully acknowledged for its support with special thanks to Stein Erik Hagen-The Canica Art Collection; Angelo K H Chan and Frederick Wertheim; Tian-Tzy Li and Julio Herrera; Lisa and John Miller; Lauren and Scott Pinkus; Ann and Mel Schaffer; and Patty and Howard Silverstein.

Additional funding is provided by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s Photography Council.


Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now will be on view in the museum’s Mapplethorpe Gallery on Tower Level 4 from January 25–July 10, 2019 and July 24, 2019–January 5, 2020.

The exhibition is organized by Lauren Hinkson, Associate Curator, Collections, and Susan Thompson, Associate Curator, with Levi Prombaum, Curatorial Assistant, Collections.


25 January
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Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
1071 Fifth Ave at 89th St
New York, 10128 United States
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