Contemporary Arts Center Obscenity Charges

From Ohio History Central

In 1991, the Contemporary Arts Center, located in Cincinnati, Ohio, hosted an exhibit titled Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment. Exhibit organizers included seven pictures by artist Robert Mapplethorpe that depicted explicit acts that many people found to be objectionable. These pictures outraged a number of people in Cincinnati and in other parts of the country. Some of these people believed that pictures of such acts were not art, and they also objected to the Contemporary Arts Center using funds from the National Endowment for the Arts to hold the exhibition. At the urging of Citizens for Community Values, Hamilton County prosecutors charged Dennis Barrie, director of the Contemporary Arts Center, and the gallery itself with pandering obscenity. A trial took place six months after charges were filed. Barrie and the Contemporary Arts Center were acquitted on all charges.

The Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment exhibit had a tremendous impact on the art world. Several galleries across the country became more conservative in the exhibits that they offered to the public and intentionally avoided controversial pieces like those of Mapplethorpe. As a result of the Cincinnati protests, the National Endowment of the Arts also became less forthcoming with money to galleries and museums, saving funds for what many people deemed to be more acceptable exhibits. Interestingly, following the Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment exhibit, the Cincinnati Arts Center experienced a dramatic increase in membership and opened a new building in downtown Cincinnati.

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