Tuesday, Apr. 05, 2011

Robert Mapplethorpe

American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe ignited a fierce culture war in 1989 when his exhibit "The Perfect Moment" was scheduled to go up at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The exhibit, which featured classic portraits, floral studies and a section of extremely graphic homosexual S&M photos, had already been featured at museums in Philadelphia and Chicago without any protest. (The explicit photos were kept hidden in a separate, age-restricted area during each exhibit.)

But when Republican Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina learned that the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) had given the Philly museum $30,000 for Mapplethorpe's works, he cobbled together a group of 100 Congressmen who wrote an angry letter to the NEA. Not wanting to incite controversy, the Corcoran Gallery backed out of the show. Later, Mapplethorpe's work traveled to Cincinnati's Contemporary Arts Center (CAC), where it caused even more trouble. Mapplethorpe's photographs were used as evidence against CAC director Dennis Barrie, who was charged with obscenity. Luckily, Barrie was acquitted. So while Mapplethorpe wasn't directly persecuted (in fact, he died a few months before the NEA controversy even started), his art received more than its fair share of discrimination.