We can still debate whether it was self-censorship or self-preservation that led the Corcoran Gallery to cancel its presentation of the iconically controversial exhibit Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment back in the summer of 1989. But, undoubtedly, it took some nerve for the Washington Project for the Arts, and then-director Jock Reynolds, to quickly put up the scuttled show, which included many of the photographer’s most striking, gay-themed nude and S/M images.
Thirty years later, WPA and current director Peter Nesbett are still making bold moves, commemorating the anniversary by inviting acclaimed artist Tiona Nekkia McClodden to curate a program of fresh exploration into The Perfect Moment.
Much like Mapplethorpe, McClodden is having a hot summer. Last month, the Philly-based visual artist and filmmaker — and proud member of the BDSM community — led attendees of the 2019 Whitney Biennial on a deep dive into leather culture, cruising, and hankie codes with her performance project Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove. Now her program for WPA, There Are No Shadows Here: The Perfect Moment at 30, is set to ignite an already-steamy season.
The exhibit, featuring the work of photographers D’Angelo Lovell Williams and George Dureau, is no tribute. “It’s more of a critical inquiry, or a critical read, of not only The Perfect Moment exhibit, but more so what it meant at the time for WPA to, quote unquote, rescue the works after the Corcoran’s cancellation of the show,” McClodden says. “People may or may not be disappointed by the fact that I’m not really centering this on Mapplethorpe at all.”
Like a surprise party, but for the attendees, rather than the guest of honor, There Are No Shadows Here focuses on elements and concepts found in Mapplethorpe’s Moment, “but looking at what’s happening on the periphery of this moment with other photographers — primarily black photographers, as well as photographers that precede and come after Mapplethorpe.”
Dureau, an early influence on Mapplethorpe, certainly warrants the recognition, as does Williams, the only living artist who will be exhibited in the multi-part project, that also includes film screenings, lectures, and an S/M + Leather roundtable.
“D’Angelo Lovell Williams…is kind of pushing the limits,” says McClodden. “He’s dealing with certain ideas around tough subjecthood — he’s a black man who makes these portraits of himself, portraits of his body up against other bodies — and [I’m bringing] him into this space to talk about censorship at a certain level.”
McClodden knows that the very concept of There Are No Shadows Here will provoke many. She’s already provided a response with the first words of her curatorial statement: “This exhibition is intended to be a transgression.” The statement suitably reflects The Moment.
There Are No Shadows Here: The Perfect Moment at 30 is on display through August 17, 2019 at the Washington Project for the Arts, 2124 8th St. NW. Visit www.wpadc.org.