8-person jury selected in Mapplethorpe trial

September 28, 1990|By Ellen Uzelac | Ellen Uzelac,Sun Staff Correspondent

CINCINNATI -- A four-man, four-woman jury was selected yesterday to hear a landmark obscenity case involving the sexually explicit photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe.

Their first order of business today: to visit the scene of the alleged crime.

Defense attorneys said they hope to show jurors the art gallery where "Robert Mapplethorpe: A Perfect Moment" was on exhibit last spring, drawing record crowds.

The Contemporary Arts Center and its director, Dennis Barrie, were indicted on misdemeanor charges of pandering obscenity and using minors in nude photos the day the controversial retrospective opened.

Artists, museum directors and advocates for free expression have rallied in support of Mr. Barrie, saying a guilty verdict would severely compromise the arts in this country.

Anti-pornography groups, meanwhile, have judged Mr. Mapplethorpe's work to be morally decadent and illegal.

Seven photos form the basis of the case, which represents the first time a U.S. art museum has been charged with obscenity. Five of the photos depict homosexual images, and two show a nude or partially nude child.

For four days, attorneys have grilled potential jurors about their views on sexuality, religion and art.

Two of them were dismissed because they said they were biased against homosexuals.

Mr. Mapplethorpe, who died of acquired immune deficiency syndrome last year, was gay. He explored homosexuality and sadomasochism through some of his photographs.

"Do you agree that there's art that might not be pretty?" a defense lawyer, H. Louis Sirkin, asked one juror yesterday. "[Or] that if it's pretty it's art and if it's art it's pretty?"

None of the jurors viewed the Mapplethorpe exhibition. Six of the eight jurors described themselves as regular churchgoers. Only one completed college.

"We do not expect you to be experts in the field of art or experts in the field of law," said Hamilton County Municipal Judge David Albanese. "You're going to have to do this through the eyes of an average person -- and a reasonable person."

If jurors do visit the Contemporary Arts Center today, they will see photos by twin brothers, Mike and Doug Starn, that the gallery describes as "provocative" and "avant-garde." Among the photos: nudes, images of Christ and a 10-foot-long tattered and stained collage called "Stretched Christ."

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