Current and upcoming Guggenheim exhibits
The Guggenheim’s latest show is a high-concept affair with an elevator pitch that goes something like this: Ask six well-known artists (Cai Guo-Qiang, Paul Chan, Jenny Holzer, Julie Mehretu, Richard Prince and Carrie Mae Weems) who’ve previously exhibited at the museum to select works from its holdings, then give them each a level of the rotunda to mount a show according to their wishes. The result is a series of visual mixtapes, introduced by wall texts that lay out the various premises in portentous tones. Overall, the exhbition is based on the assumption that an artist’s perspective is sexier than a curator’s—or, at least, more of a draw for audiences. The latter may be true, though your mileage may vary on just how enlightened you’ll feel as you take in everything. In his section “Non-Brand,” Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang digs up pieces made by canonical figures before they developed their mature style—or, as Cai sees it, their brand. Mainly, his selection involves representational images by names associated with abstraction—for example, still lifes by Mondrian and Rothko and a figure study by Hilla Rebay. The point, perhaps, is that this sort of work is as valuable as the artists’ signature efforts, but who, exactly, argues otherwise? Cai muddles matters by hanging the work in an undifferentiated mass high on the wall, where it’s hard to see. With “Four Paintings Looking Right,” Richard Prince, who made his bones on intellectual property theft, meditates on the issue o
A 1993 donation of some 200 works by Robert Mapplethorpe (1946–89) jump-started the Guggenheim’s photography collection, so it’s only appropriate for the museum to mark the 30th anniversary of his death from AIDS with this institutional tribute. Mapplethorpe created some of the most beautiful and iconic photos (black-and-white nudes, portraits and flower studies, among them) of the 1970s and ’80s. A formal perfectionist, he was attacked by the religious right and its proxies for explicit depictions of gay sex—particularly of the S&M variety—as well as for pictures of naked children. He was also criticized from the other end of the ideological spectrum for his erotic photos of black men, which many deemed objectifying. This exhibition, the second part of a yearlong project, contrasts 16 of Mapplethorpe’s works with nearly two dozen pieces by six queer artists from succeeding generations. They include four gay African-American men, with the work of one, Glenn Ligon, directly critiquing Mapplethorpe. In his Notes on the Margins of the Black Book (1991–93), Ligon appropriates images from The Black Book, Mapplethorpe’s 1988 volume of photos of (often naked) black men and presents them alongside framed comments, ranging from academic to anecdotal to utterly personal. Quietly devastating, Ligon’s piece is now considered to be as important as the original itself. Envisioning the politics of race and sex more literally, Paul Mpagi Sepuya poses naked in front of the camera while usin
The Guggenheim bestows the twelfth edition of its annual $100,000 prize and accompanying solo exhibition to sculptor Simone Leigh whose work could be described as a kind of homage to the strength and fortitude that African-American women have displayed in the face of adversity throughout American history, from the travails of slavery to the Black Lives Matter protests of today. One such figure was Harriet Jacobs (1813–1897), and abolitionist and former slave who wrote a harrowing account of her years hiding from her masters in the rafters of her grandmother’s house. Her story provides the inspiration for the exhibition, which includes ceramic objects and a sound installation. This year has shaped up to be a huge one for the Chicago-born artist: In addition to this show, she’s appeared in the 2019 Whitney Biennial, and has also inaugurated the High Line’s new public art platform, The Plinth, with a monumental, 16-foot-tall bust of a black woman.
You know you’re a big name in art history when a museum decides to build an entire exhibition around one of your works, and of course, Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988) is just that sort of artist. The work in question in this Guggenheim show is Basquiat’s The Death of Michael Stewart, painted 1983 to commemorate the eponymous graffiti artist who died in police custody after being arrested while tagging a subway wall. The event was one of several racially charged controversies that dogged the mayoral administration of Ed Koch, but it seized the attention of the art world in particular. Basquiat created the piece, also known as Defacement, in Keith Haring’s studio and never intended to have it shown. Artistic intentions, however, tend to be overlooked by the demands of the art market, and so, Defacement is being surfaced as a sort of pre-Black-Lives-Matter statement—which it certainly was. The Guggenheim surrounds the piece with other canvases by the artist, along with contributions by Haring, Warhol, Stewart himself and ephemera (newspapers, etc.) related to the incident.