I still remember my first encounter with Mapplethorpe in Portugal - first impression? Exposed, wild, erotic. It’s a pleasure to revisit his work again at New York during this ‘surprise trip’ to Guggenheim (bummer as the Rotunda Galleries were all closed for installation).
In the thirty years since his death, Robert Mapplethorpe has become a cultural icon, a legend. One of the most critically acclaimed and controversial American artists of the late twentieth century, he is widely known for daring imagery that deliberately transgresses social mores, and for the censorship debates that transpired around his work in the US during the late 80s. 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 this 1988 self-portrait, which would prove to be his last, his gaunt face appears to float within a black void as his hand clutches a skull-topped walking cane in the picture’s foreground. He died soon after, from AIDS-related complications. That he chose to represent himself in such a haunting manner, holding an overtly morbid symbol of death, speaks to an awareness and acceptance of his own mortality. Despite his weakened conditions, his firm grasp exude a characteristic sense of control and mastery of all things, even death. He also later established a foundation manage his estate and helped fund HIV/AIDS medical research.
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.
Strange but true, Mapplethorpe apparently did not start his artistic career as a photographer. But his intuitive and sensual capture of his subject was an important part of his practice; yet, equally significant was his skill as a portraitist. From capture Warhol as a saintly religious pop culture icon, to bringing forth all the delicate glamor of actress Candy Darling, Mapplethorpe had a singular eye for his subjects.
A true legend. A show cannot be missed.
Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now
On show til Jan 5, 2020
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum