Jurors offer little reaction when shown controversial Mapplethorpe photos

October 02, 1990|By Ellen Uzelac | Ellen Uzelac,Sun Staff Correspondent

CINCINNATI — CINCINNATI---After six days of hearing about Robert Mapplethorpe's sexually explicit photographs,jurors in the landmark obscenity case finally got their first look yesterday at what all the fuss is about

If lead prosecutor Frank Prouty had hoped for stormy indignation as the homoerotic photos were passed from juror to juror,hed didn't get it

Jurors were impassive,taking just a few seconds each to review the controversial photographs

The slow-moving trial,which today is to enter its seventh day,seems to be taking its toll on the jury of four men and four women.Late yesterday afternoon,one juror appeared ready to nod off.

After prosecutors rested their case following less than two days of testimony,Hamilton County Municipal Judge David Albanese refused against the Contemporary Arts Center and its director Dennis Barrie.

The art gallery and Mr. Barrie are charged with pandering obscenity and with using minors in nudity-related materials as a result of seven photographs that were part of a 175-picture exhibition here last spring, "Robert Mapplethorpe: A Perfect Moment."

The state produced only three witnesses -- police officers who had previewed the exhibit at the gallery's invitation before its hugely successful run. The police investigation yielded no charges, but a grand jury issued indictments the day the show opened.

Mr. Prouty argued that the content of the five homoerotic pictures -- which he has labeled obscene -- "far outweighs any artistic value,"adding: "The bottom line is the pictures."

In a refrain he often repeated yesterday, he pondered, "What's more important -- art or community values?"

In arguing for acquittal, defense attorney Marc Mezibov said prosecutors had failed to prove that the photographs lacked serious artistic merit -- one of three tests of obscenity set by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Two museum directors, including the curator who assembled the Mapplethorpe show, testified that Mr. Mapplethorpe, who died of acquired immune deficiency syndrome in 1989, was one of the most important photographers of his time.

Janet Kardon, former director of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, said that after reviewing 2,000 of Mr. Mapplethorpe's photographs, she and the artist together selected the still lifes, portraits and figure studies that made up the retro-spective.

After following Mr. Mapplethorpe's career for several years, she said she had found it "imperative" to design the show after learning the photographer had AIDS.

"He was one of the most important photographers in the '80s," said Ms. Kardon, who now serves as director of the American Craft Museum in New York. "I felt it was so urgent to have the opportunity to spend time with him and have [the show] open while he was alive."

Under questioning by Mr. Prouty, she said Mr. Mapplethorpe did not require her to incorporate the five homoerotic photographs known as the "X Portfolio," although they had agreed to cover all aspects of his work, including his exploration of the gay underground.

"I would call them figure studies," Ms. Kardon said, and not -- as Mr. Prouty kept underscoring in his questioning -- "sexual expressions."

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