WASHINGTON DC - 2019 marks thirty years since the cancellation of The Perfect Moment: Photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. And in this new perfect moment, this appealing anniversary wrapped neatly in black and white, it is easy to draw a line directly from the present back to one point in the past. However, when time is compressed as such, what happens to the in-between? From the Margins aims to examine the foreclosure presented by Mapplethorpe’s legacy by pivoting towards Glenn Ligon’s response to Mapplethorpe. In this way, Ligon’s Notes On the Margins of the Black Book serves as a guide to generating critique.
In Ligon’s incisive work, photographs from Mapplethorpe’s infamous Black Book are paired with texts taken from writers such as Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, and Zora Neale Hurston, as well as quotes from everyday patrons to New York City bars and clubs. In his response to Mapplethorpe, Ligon reveals the inextricability of identity, race, sex, history, and politics. From the Margins views Ligon’s work as critique, but more specifically critique as care. Works on view such as Naima Green’s Pur·suit updates Catherine Opie’s Dyke Deck to better reflect the lived queer experience of today, with 54 card-sized portraits of queer womxn, trans, non-binary, and gender nonconforming people. Stanley Stellar, whose acclaimed photographs of New York City men spanning over four decades, continues to capture vulnerability and sensuality in all their endless manifestations.
From the Margins speaks to the function of critique, the authority of public reception, and the spectacularization of an artist into a mythos. Critique is presented without the condemnation of finality but rather as a form of care and collaboration. How can we better understand the history of representation when we re-examine Mapplethorpe’s position? The artists in the show both take up and refuse Mapplethorpe’s ethos in the service of making space. The exhibition considers the importance of filling in the gaps in our visual vocabulary, challenging the viewer to reconsider the legacy of representing those on the margins and the role of critique.
In addition to the sixteen artists on view, From the Margins includes a resource library and a fully illustrated catalog with over ten contributors.