In 1993 the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation gifted one hundred ninety-four photographs and unique objects to the Guggenheim Museum, creating one of the most comprehensive public repositories of his work.
From July 24 to 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). 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).
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 highlights the artist’s early Polaroids; iconic, classicizing nudes; flowers; self-portraits; and images of the S&M underground scene in New York.
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. Often referencing his own sense of otherness as he confronted the confluence of racism and homophobia, Fani-Kayode’s images reflect his experiences as an outsider in both Africa and the West. His portraits incorporate symbolism and iconography from his Yoruba heritage into potent celebrations of spirituality, homoeroticism, and the black male figure.
The photographs, videos, and installations of Lyle Ashton Harris probe the nuances of identity and belonging through performative self-presentation. His early Americas series (1987–88) offers multilayered ruminations on—and subversions of—ethnicity, gender, and sexual desire. Since the late 1990s, Harris has assembled personal imagery and cultural ephemera into complex collages. Born out of the artist’s experiences around the recent death of his estranged father, Untitled (DAD) (2018) , looks at ritual expressions of grief and mourning to explore the therapeutic potential of publicly processing loss.
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. In the series Somnayama Ngonyama (Hail the Dark Lioness, 2014– ), Muholi incorporates everyday materials into impromptu costumes to assume an array of archetypical alter egos that counter reductive stereotypes and create powerful emblems of self-possession and beauty.