Approximately 150 protesters rallied outside a Cincinnati courthouse yesterday, demanding freedom of expression, as the trial of the Contemporary Arts Center and its director began. The trial centers around a Robert Mapplethorpe photo exhibit that was organized by the University's Institute for Contemporary Art and was displayed in the Meyerson Hall gallery last year with little controversy. But over the past year, the photo exhibit has come under fire from Senator Jesse Helmes (R-N.C.) and other conservative lawmakers, who attacked the National Endowment for the Arts for funding the Mapplethorpe exhibit. It has also been attacked by several conservative community groups who have deemed the art obscene. "We maintained that the we never presented obscene art and never will, Robert Maplethorpe is not looked upon as obscene," ICA spokesperson Meredith Slocum said last night. And since the recent legislative attack on the exhibit began, the ICA has since had difficulty receiving funding for three grant proposals from the NEA. "After the Mapplethrope exhibit, [the NEA] did not look at our grants. . . they just rejected them," stated Slocum. "But eventually we got them." The trial began yesterday with the jury selection as attorneys questioned a pool of 50 people in order to select six to sit on the jury. Both Gallery Director David Barrie and the gallery are charged with pandering obscenity and with using children in nudity-related matrial. If convicted on both counts, Barrie could receive a maximum fine of $2000 and one year in jail. The gallery could be fined $10,000. "Of course it's a dissappointing shock that it had to go to trial, but I think that the courts are a better place for determining questions of obscenity than legislative bodies," Slocum added. The Cincinnati grand jury that indicted Barrie and the gallery earlier this year concluded that seven of the 175 photographs in the exhibit, entitled "Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment," violated community standards. One photograph pictures a man urinating into another man's mouth while others demonstrate oral sex and anal penetration with objects. The photograph sited for child pornography includes, "a lewd, graphic, exhibition of the genitals," said Senior Assistant City Prosecutor Frank Prouty. The same photographs were included in the University's exhibit. Defense attorneys have argued that the gallery is a museum and therefore exempt from obscenity laws. However, this argument was rejected by Municipal Judge David Albanese, who ruled that since a museum by definition has a permanent collection, the Contemporary Arts Center does not fall under that classification with changing exhibits. At the beginning of the trial yesterday, Municipal Judge Albanese denied three defense requests. In one ruling, Albanese did not allow potential jurors to be individually questioned nor limited to Cincinnati city residents. In the second, he refused to allow the defense to increase the number of preemptory challenges allowed. The defense requested these liberties due to the heavy publicity of the case that requiring it to eliminate more jurors. Albanese also ruled against considering the exhibit as a whole and sided with the prosecutors who will examine each photograph individually, including the portraits and floral studies. The exhibit was canceled at the Concoran Art Gallery Museaum, in Washington D.C., last year due to the furor regarding government funding of art that has been deemed obscene by some legislators. Currently, the exhibit is on display at the Institute for Contemporary Art in Boston. The Associated Press contributed to this article.Comments powered by Disqus
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