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(Columbus Alive!) Arts Preview: After the Moment

Posted November 05, 2015 in

"Twenty-five years after the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati became the first and only museum to be charged with obscenity over a retrospective of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe’s work, it’s celebrating freedom of speech and artistic expression with a new generation of artists and their work.

The Perfect Moment, a show of 175 photographs by Mapplethorpe, was mounted in 1989 in an atmosphere of fiery rhetoric about obscenity and funding by the National Endowment for the Arts of controversial works. (Remember the so-called culture wars?) A grand jury found seven of the images — a few depicting sadomasochistic sex between men and others depicting children, their genitals exposed — to be not just offensive, but criminal. The museum and its director, Dennis Barrie, were indicted and put on trial. They were acquitted. And no museum has been charged with obscenity since.

The controversy and trial ignited protests, and some say they were the flashpoint for a crucial conversation about art and Cincinnati among defenders of the exhibition and free speech. The Perfect Moment is credited by some today not just as a landmark in free speech law but in the history of Cincinnati. Today, the city has wide arms for art and has shaken off what had been a reputation for conservatism and closed-mindedness."

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