There Are No Shadows Here: The Perfect Moment at 30

Curated by Tiona Nekkia McClodden

Curatorial Assistat - Dain Oh


Location: The WPA in Washington D.C.

Opening: Thurs July 18 – Sat August 17

There Are No Shadows Here: The Perfect Moment at 30, part symposium + part exhibition, will run from July 18th to August 17th. The exhibition is a critical inquiry, a transgressive and deep reading of the Washington D.C.-based WPA’s intervention to present Robert Mapplethorpe’s The Perfect Moment exhibition in 1989. This intervention followed the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s cancellation of the exhibition due to fears of losing their NEA funding on the basis of visual obscenity, setting an example for resisting censorship. In light of the 30th anniversary of The Perfect Moment, this exhibition organized by curator and visual artist Tiona Nekkia McClodden includes a series of lectures, roundtable discussions, a photographic exhibition, and an experimental exhibition brochure. A final publication will document the intellectual production of the exhibit. There Are No Shadows Here hopes to invoke a set of new conversations that interrogate the past and present peripheries often overshadowed by Mapplethorpe’s photographic works and legacy.


Opening Response to The Perfect Moment at 30 by Curator Tiona Nekkia McClodden

Thursday, July 18, 6 - 8 pm


Film Screening: Mapplethorpe Look At The Pictures

Friday, July 19, 7 - 9 pm


Oluremi C. Onabanjo on Rotimi Fani Kayode

Saturday, July 20, 3 - 4 pm


Mia Kang on Alvin Baltrop

Saturday, July 20, 4:30 - 5:30 pm


Alex Fialho on Glenn Ligon, Robert Mapplethorpe, and the NEA

Sunday, July 21, 3 - 4 pm


Tiona Nekkia McClodden on Marlon Riggs

Sunday, July 21, 4:30 - 5:30 pm

Curatorial Statement

This exhibition is intended to be a transgression, a provocation, a critical inquiry, and a response that is both for and against this moment.

The invitation: When the WPA, or more specifically Jordan Martin, Curatorial Production Manager invited me to consider curating this exhibit – something in response or acknowledgement of the 30th anniversary of WPA’s exhibition of The Perfect Moment, I was slightly taken aback.   I immediately thought, as a Black queer lesbian woman, what is my responsibility here to myself and to the public? I decided to respond to this moment in the WPA’s exhibition history by looking deeply into the periphery of what was happening at the time, to satisfy my own interests and challenge the viewer. When the WPA, after two months of searching, told me they had almost no archival materials about The Perfect Moment,an exhibition hosted in their own institution in 1989, I felt an opportunity to transgress the historical event.

The catalogue as object: I immediately remembered that in my first meeting with the staff of WPA in January, Peter Nesbett, the Executive Director gave me their sole copy of The Perfect Moment catalogue, originally placed in the gallery in support of the exhibition and worn ragged from years of use. I’m thinking of the hands that touched this object. This antiquated book worn by years of viewing is the only place where these images can be seen or found by those outside of a contemporary museological engagement. I think of this catalogue as mediating the intimacy of looking at these images in the present. You must hold the book/object and you must wait for someone else to finish their viewing to begin yours. I like this tension in relation to the lines outside the original WPA building when the show opened in 1989, on 7th and D Streets NW, formed by an eager audience who carried the desire to simply look.

A gesture: This exhibition concerns itself more with the gesture that the WPA extended to Mapplethorpe than with the exhibition of images itself. The WPA rescued the show, found funding to mount the exhibition, and provided a space for these visually hostile images. The themes that emerge from this gesture and The Perfect Moment exhibition move away from Mapplethorpe, in fact, as I am aware that many other artists of the time could have benefited from such investment. Here, I am hoping to create a new set of conversations which are urgent in this moment, in order to move us forward. I’m interested not only in what is happening in the art world now, but also in what took place before Mapplethorpe, and even more importantly, what happened in the periphery of The Perfect Moment in 1989––specifically the work of Mapplethorpe’s peers, many overshadowed by his exhibition and market success.

The living artist: With D'Angelo Lovell Williams, the sole living artist featured within There Are No Shadows Here: The Perfect Moment at 30, I am interested in pushing forward a conversation regarding new forms of censorship of photographic images in the age of the internet, rather than within galleries or museum exhibitions. Now, censorship may occur through algorithms, limiting the possibilities of showing work online.

Black Gay men and self-subjecthood: I aim to extend the exhibition space to someone producing images of interiority, in relationship to Mapplethorpe’s controversial figurations of Black gay men. What does it mean for those men to speak for themselves, pushing the boundaries of intersubjective intimacy from within the image, as the subject? Can there be a moment for these men to invoke a critique of the images that place their bodies in stasis, in response to being figured by an art world centered around the white gaze? Can there be space to access agency and the intentional untethering of the image from the subject? I want to consider individual agency and release versus representation of a group.

What comes before: Through considering the images of George Dureau, I am interested in what comes before Mapplethorpe’s investment in the rigorous museological and gallery/art world system in a quest for fame and dominance. What does it mean to make images that lack the end game of exhibition? With Dureau, I am looking at the positioning of the figure / body / proximity to societally named abject subjects, in order to give them more agency, more personhood. What does it mean to have your community, your friends as photographic subject? Dureau is a photographer with an affection for Classical sculpture. His eye treats men, both white and Black, as sculpture-adjacent bodies which replicate that post-ruin godliness replete with the retention of elegant power. Missing limbs, fine as marble and flesh. Positionality and beauty collide and rupture––here the body is captured, forcing us to negotiate between subjects and to reevaluate the aesthetics of power.

Positionality: What does it mean to allow the subject to perform, in comparison to forcibly posing a subject? Mapplethorpe extends many of Dureau’s formal cues, but evacuates the personhood of his Black subjects, who present as fleshly shells of bodies. Dureau, on the other hand, is strongly grounded in New Orleans as place, a city which pushes past notions of decency.

The Presentations: The opening weekend features a series of presentations and roundtables which will become a part of the exhibition once they conclude. Curator and art historian Alex Fialho will reflect on the work of Glenn Ligon, Robert Mapplethorpe, and the NEA; poet and art historian Mia Kang will reflect on the work of Alvin Baltrop; curator and art historian Oluremi C. Onabanjo will reflect on the work of Rotimi Fani Kayode, and I will reflect on the work of Marlon Riggs in relation to my artistic practice. Roundtables featuring members of the communities depicted in Mapplethorpe’s images will be invited to provide deep readings of images from relevant monographs––George Dureau's New Orleans (1985) andRobert Mapplethorpe's The Black Book (1986)––as well as images of SM and leather in Mapplethorpe's The Perfect Moment. Audio recordings of these presentations will then be installed in the space, and books referenced by the artists and photographers will be placed within the exhibition.

The flowers: And then there are the flowers. They are objects, figure, and body. Their beauty is presented in the space, but we must not forget that this proximity comes at the cost of their death. I want us to look at something that is dying gracefully... Placed on pedestals, the flowers become bodies, half-living bodies on view in the space.

On the periphery of Mapplethorpe: I’m using Mapplethorpe as a Trojan horse here. It is my opinion that his work is deeply entangled with the movement of social capital within the art world. Body and subculture become capital in these photographic objects. Subculture becomes figured as art world provocation. There's no sense of place here. The bodies are too fine, captured in a deep stasis that cannot be moved. Mapplethorpe's shadows are mostly absent, leaving the foreground to seduce us immediately but not in the long run, leaving the subjects themselves on fragile grounds. There are no shadows here. On the periphery, I am thinking very much about what is to the left and right of this moment. The silhouettes––the mass––darkness and Blackness––I want to take this moment as an opportunity to flesh out the details which emerge from an imagined space.

This presentation cannot live solely in this building, in this space. The exhibition is a prompt to work through and come to your own conclusion about these new associations and forms of connection.

xTiona Nekkia McClodden

All installation images by Matthew Francisco. 2019.

1.George Dureau. B.J. & George, , vintage gelatin silver print, 19.5 x 18.75 x 1.5 inches (framed), courtesy of Stephen J. Javaras / the Estate of George Dureau/Higher Pictures/Arthur Roger Gallery

Left - Right

  1. George Dureau. Roosevelt Singleton, 1978, vintage gelatin silver print, 15 7/8 x 16.5 x 1.5 inches (framed)

2.George Dureau. Craig Blanchette, 1992, vintage gelatin silver print, 15 7/8 x 16.5 x 1.5 inches (framed)

  1. George Dureau. Troy Brown for Brian Corry, n/d, vintage gelatin silver print, 15 7/8 x 16.75 x 1.5 inches (framed)

  • 4.D'Angelo Lovell Williams. Fleurish, 2016, pigment print, 30 x 24 inches
  1. George Dureau. Jonas Williams, n/d, vintage gelatin silver print, 15 7/8 x 16.75 x 1.5 inches (framed)

  1. George Dureau. Thompson/Brown, n/d, vintage gelatin silver print, 15 7/8 x 16.5 x 1.5 inches (framed)

Left - Right

1.George Dureau. Ernest Beasley, 1981, vintage gelatin silver print, 23.5 x 23 x 1.25 inches (framed)

  1. 2. D'Angelo Lovell Williams. Know Your Holes, 2015, pigment print, 24 x 20 inches

3.George Dureau. Wayne Ducros, 1984, vintage gelatin silver print, 19.5 x 18.75 x 1.5 inches (framed)

  1. 4. D'Angelo Lovell Williams. Structural Dishonesty, 2016, pigment print, 19 x 13 inches

5.George Dureau. Earl Leavell, 1977, vintage gelatin silver print, 20 x 16 inches

6.George Dureau. Pee Wee, n/d, vintage gelatin silver print, 24 3/8 x 23.75 x 1.25 inches (framed)

  1. 7. D'Angelo Lovell Williams. Face Down, Ass Up, 2016, pigment print, 50 x 40 inches

Left - Right

1.George Dureau. Ernest Beasley, 1981, vintage gelatin silver print, 23.5 x 23 x 1.25 inches (framed)

  1. 2. D'Angelo Lovell Williams. Know Your Holes, 2015, pigment print, 24 x 20 inches

3.George Dureau. Wayne Ducros, 1984, vintage gelatin silver print, 19.5 x 18.75 x 1.5 inches (framed)

1.George Dureau. Wayne Ducros, 1984, vintage gelatin silver print, 19.5 x 18.75 x 1.5 inches (framed)

  1. 2. D'Angelo Lovell Williams. Structural Dishonesty, 2016, pigment print, 19 x 13 inches

5.George Dureau. Earl Leavell, 1977, vintage gelatin silver print, 20 x 16 inches

3.George Dureau. Pee Wee, n/d, vintage gelatin silver print, 24 3/8 x 23.75 x 1.25 inches (framed)

34silver print, 19.5 x 18.75 x 1.5 inches (framed)

  1. 4. D'Angelo Lovell Williams. Structural Dishonesty, 2016, pigment print, 19 x 13 inches

5.George Dureau. Earl Leavell, 1977, vintage gelatin silver print, 20 x 16 inches

6.George Dureau. Pee Wee, n/d, vintage gelatin silver print, 24 3/8 x 23.75 x 1.25 inches (framed)

Reading List:

Black Males byRobert Mapplethorpe. Amsterdam: Galerie Jurka, 1980.

Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde. New York: Crossing Press, 1984. Reprint, New York: Crossing Press, 2007.

New Orleans: 50 Photographs by George Dureau. London: GMP, 1985.

The Black Book by Robert Mapplethorpe. New York: St. Martin's Press, c1986. Reprint, Munich: Schirmer/Mosel Verlag Gmbh, 2010.

Black Male / White Male by Rotimi Fani-Kayode and Alex Hirst. London: GMP, 1988.

Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment by Janet Kardon, Robert Mapplethorpe, David Joselit, and Kay Larson. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, Institute of Contemporary Art, 1989.

BLK: the national black lesbian and gay news magazine, #5 published by Alan Bell, ed., Los Angeles: The Blk Co., 1989.

Newslink: [#16?] Gay Male S/M Activists. Winter 1989-90. New York: Gay Male S/M Activists, 1989.

"Robert Mapplethorpe Exhibit" [cover story], edited by Tracy Baim in OUTlines: the voice of the gay and lesbian community; [originally Chicago Outlines], vol. 2, #10, (March. 1989)

Mapplethorpe: Exposition Du 9 Novembre 1991 Au 15 Mars 1992, FAE Musée D’art Contemporain by Robert Mapplethorpe. Pully/Lausanne: FAE Musée D’art Contemporain, 1991.

Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration by David Wojnarowicz. New York: Vintage Books, 1991. Reprint, Edinburgh: Canongate Books, 2017.

"Does Your Mama Know About Me?" In Ceremonies: Prose & Poetry by Essex Hemphill, 37-42. New York: Plume, 1992. Reprint, San Francisco: Cleis Press, 2000.

Culture Wars: Documents from the Recent Controversies in the Arts by Richard Bolton. New York: New Press: Distributed by W. W. Norton, 1992.

Fetishism as Cultural Discourse by Emily Apter and William Pietz. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993.

"Reading Racial Fetishism: The Photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe." In Welcome to the Jungle: New Positions in Black Cultural Studies by Kobena Mercer, 171-219. New York: Routledge, 1994.

Loft Living: Culture and Capital in Urban Change by Sharon Zukin. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Books on Demand, 2000.

OUTLAW REPRESENTATION: Censorship and Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century American Art by Richard Meyer. Boston: Beacon Press, 2002. Reprint, S.l.: ECHO POINT BOOKS & MEDIA, 2019.

Glenn Ligon: America by Scott Rothkopf, Glenn Ligon, Hilton Als, and Thelma Golden. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2011.

Shotgun Seamstress Zine Collection: A Zine by and for Black Punks by Osa Atoe, 100-106 [on Alvin Baltrop]. Tacoma, WA: Mend My Dress Press, 2012.

Image Matters; Archive, Photography and the African Diaspora in Europe by Tina M. Campt. Durham: Duke University Press, 2012.

Pleading in the Blood: The Art and Performances of Ron Athey by Dominic Johnson.Fishponds: Intellect Ltd., 2013.

Alvin Baltrop: The Piers by Alvin J. Baltrop. Edited by James Reid and Tom Watt. Madrid, Spain: TF Editores, 2015.

Disss-co: (a Fragment) by Douglas Crimp and Jocelyn Miller. Long Island City, NY: MoMA PS1, 2015.

Before Pictures by Douglas Crimp. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2016.

George Dureau: The Photographs by George Dureau. Aperture, 2016.

Flora: The Complete Flowers by Robert Mapplethorpe. London; New York, NY: Phaidon Press Ltd., 2016.

D’Angelo Lovell Williams by D’Angelo Lovell Williams. New York: (self-published), 2018.

Bloodflowers: Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Photography, and the 1980s (The Visual Arts of Africa and its Diasporas) by Ian W. Bourland and Rotimi Fani-Kayode. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2019.

Essential Essays, Volume 1: Foundations of Cultural Studies by Stuart Hall. Durham: Duke University Press, 2019.

Evidence of Being: The Black Gay Cultural Renaissance and the Politics of Violence by Darius Bost, 61-62. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019.

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