The photographer Robert Mapplethorpe is inextricably woven into the fabric of the New-York-Before-It-Sucked (that is the ‘70s and the ‘80s) cultural mythology. He’s always been that for the art circle, and he’s become that for a wider circle after Just Kids, a Patti Smith’s memoir about their friendship wildly popular amongst those who weren’t there. For fashion people, Raf Simons most recently popularized the name by devoting an entire collection to Mapplethorpe’s work.
Unapologetically gay, unapologetically promiscuous, unapologetically bohemian, Mapplethorpe was indeed a fixture on the New York cultural circuit, hanging out at Max’s Kansas City, rooming with Patti Smith, circling the requisite Warhol circle, and so on – the stuff of legend to be sure.
This year the ever savvy Guggenheim is capitalizing on the legend by holding a year-long two-part exhibit on Mapplethorpe, called Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now. The show is timely, as the LGBTQ rights continues to be a hot-button topic that attracts millennials. Why not attract them to a museum to see the granddaddy of it all? Because Mapplethorpe remains supremely important when it comes to highlighting the gay scene in New York. And not only highlighting it, but sticking it in the face of America. Contrary to the title, I find nothing implicit in the tensions Mapplethorpe put on display with his work.