EYE CANDY

The Problem With Robert Mapplethorpe

© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

In 2016, Robert Mapplethorpe, who died in 1989, seemed more alive than ever: His life was turned into a hit documentary, and his work could be found everywhere from two exhibitions, at both the Getty and LACMA, to an in-demand collection by Raf Simons. But in 2019, the whispers that accompanied the late photographer’s resurgence have grown into a roar—to the point that New York’s Guggenheim Museum divided its year-long Mapplethorpe exhibition into two parts: the controversy Mapplethorpe generated during his lifetime, and the controversy Mapplethorpe’s legacy has generated since his death. The latter, which opened this week, reconsiders the works of Mapplethorpe’s surveyed in the first, spanning from his still-lifes to the eroticism that put him at the center of censorship debates. This time around, Mapplethorpe has company: His work is now exhibited alongside that of self-portraitists such as Zanele Muholi, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, and Catherine Opie, whose intersectional approach to queer representation stands in stark contrast to Mapplethorpe’s exoticized objectification of bodies that so often belonged to black men. Take a look inside the show, here.

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© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Robert Mapplethorpe, Self Portrait, 1980. Featured in the exhibition “Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now,” on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York through January 5, 2020.

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© Paul Mpagi Sepuya

Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Darkroom Mirror (0X5A1531) (from Darkroom Mirror), 2017. Featured in the exhibition “Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now,” on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York through January 5, 2020.

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© Zanele Muholi, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York

Zanele Muholi, Siphe, Johannesburg (from Somnyama Ngonyama), 2018. Featured in the exhibition “Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now,” on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York through January 5, 2020.

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© Rotimi Fani-Kayode, courtesy Autograph ABP

Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Adebiyi, ca. 1989. Featured in the exhibition “Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now,” on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York through January 5, 2020.

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© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Robert Mapplethorpe, Grace Jones, 1984. Featured in the exhibition “Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now,” on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York through January 5, 2020.

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© Lyle Ashton Harris

Lyle Ashton Harris, Americas (Triptych), 1987–88. Featured in the exhibition “Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now,” on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York through January 5, 2020.

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© Rotimi Fani-Kayode, courtesy Autograph ABP

Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Every Moment Counts II (from Ecstatic Antibodies), ca. 1989. Featured in the exhibition “Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now,” on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York through January 5, 2020.

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© 2019 Catherine Opie

Catherine Opie, Dyke, 1993. Featured in the exhibition “Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now,” on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York through January 5, 2020.