Exhibition of Mapplethorpe in Guggenheim.

Innocent lilies and impeccable nudes — a two-part exhibition of Mapplethorpe in Guggenheim.


Guggenheim New York opened a new exhibition of probably the most provocative photographer of the 20th century Robert Mapplethorpe on January 25. The exhibition (Implicit Tensions is its name) consists of two parts which will run in a row: the first one is dedicated to some earliest works by Mapplethorpe basically including his photos of nudes, floral still lives and portraits of celebrities; in the second part a focused selection of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs are presented in the context of contemporary art alongside by works of other artists. Enjoy both early and most outstanding works by Mapplethorpe on Jan 25-July 10, 2019 and July 24, 2019-Jan 5, 2020 correspondingly.

You don’t really have to be integrated in the context to understand Robert Mapplethorpe’s works as all of his photos appeal to our visual perception. However, it’s essential to realize that each work can be judged just in terms of the time period when it was created. Though the 60s-70s can be seen by some of our coevals as “want-to-break-free” time, hardly one at those years would expect someone to take explicit photos of homosexuals. At least, nobody considered this photography as a kind of arts.

My lifestyle is bizarre but the only thing you need to know is where the darkroom is’ (Robert Mapplethorpe)

Believe it or not, Mapplethorpe wasn’t going to become a photographer until his twenties. He enjoyed drawing as a child and entered the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn where he studied Graphic Arts. The one who suggested Robert going into photography was his first and last girlfriend Patti Smith, also known as the Godmother of punk rock. She possibly did it because of the money issues as it was safer to earn bread taking commercial photos than trying to conquer the fractious art world. However, some unconventional cases of being both commercially successful and widely recognized were emerging that time such as those of Andy Warhol and his Silver Factory. Robert took a chance and didn’t hesitate a minute.

‘I really believe that ­Robert sought not to destroy order, but to reorder, to reinvent, and to create a new order’ (Patti Smith, in the interview to Christopher Bollen for Interview Magazine)

From his young age Robert looked handsome and somehow different in the eyes of the others. His possessed a kind of androgynous eye-appeal, vulnerable and brutal at once. Patti was the only girlfriend and long-term muse as Robert quickly started seeking sexual encounters with men — awfully good-looking ones and those who could help with his promotion as an artist. Robert Mapplethorpe was really tough-minded and even cold-blooded: he easily got use of people that he worked with. The photographer made friends with Andy Warhol whom he dreamt of outearning, he slept with his patrons, male models, dancers, bodybuilders who posed for his works. Still and all, Robert Mapplethorpe was the one to appreciate beauty and to look for it everywhere and find it in the photographs.

‘Beauty and the devil are the same thing’ (Robert Mapplethorpe)

His favorite subjects were male nudes (less often female), children and flowers. Innocent calla lilies and impeccable nudes — that’s how his touch in art can be described. Floral still lives of Mapplethorpe are silent and gleam with natural beauty while naked bodies captured on the portraits are posh and unmoved. The photographer created really edgy things for which he was blamed for impudence and even diabolism. Surprisingly, Robert Mapplethorpe considered himself as a religious and good person. He avoided lying, strained after beauty and maybe for those reasons kept all the pure and sensitive deep inside.


“Implicit Tensions” by Robert Mapplethorpe at Guggenheim

Exhibition period: Jan 25-July 10, 2019 / July 24, 2019-Jan 5, 2020

Address: Guggenheim Museum, 5th Ave, New York, NY 10128

Curators: Lauren Hinkson, Associate Curator, Collections; Susan Thompson, Associate Curator; Levi Prombaum, Associate Curator;

More information: www.guggenheim.org/exhibition/mapplethorpe

Text | Julia Krychevich


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