Whose Art Is It, Anyway?

A photographic exhibit fuels debate over Government's role

Art and politics are often a volatile mix. Add sex, and the mix becomes combustible. A case in point: on June 12 Washington's Corcoran Gallery of Art abruptly canceled an exhibit of Robert Mapplethorpe's work, which included sadomasochistic and homoerotic photographs. "We really felt this exhibit was at the wrong place at the wrong time," explained museum director Christina Orr-Cahall. "We had the strong potential to become some persons' political platform."

The "persons" Orr-Cahall was talking about are mostly on Capitol Hill, and they oversee the budget of the National Endowment for the Arts, which partly subsidized the Mapplethorpe show with...

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