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Crowds Throng To Mapplethorpe Show; Police Take No Immediate Action

April 7, 1990

CINCINNATI (AP) _ Police officers mingled among the lines of spectators that crowded the Contemporary Arts Center for today’s public opening of the photographs of the late Robert Mapplethorpe.

″I’ve never seen crowds like this at an opening,″ center spokeswoman Amy Bannister said.

″When people hear about censorship of art museums, they wonder where it’s going to stop,″ she said.

Hamilton County authorities sparked controversy in recent days by saying they think some of the photographs, which depict homosexual and erotic themes, are criminally obscene. But despite the police presence at the opening, no police action was immediately taken against the show, which runs through May 26.

A demonstrator at a museum entrance held up a sign reading ″Censorship is obscene.″ Because of the high number of expected spectators, the show opened at 9 a.m., an hour earlier than scheduled. No immediate attendance figures were available.

Roger Ach, president of the center’s board of trustees, said public criticism would not change the museum’s plans for choosing future shows. Ach said he is encouraged by the public debate about art and freedom of expression.

″I find myself being a conservative spokesman in a conservative community,″ Ach said. ″But I believe in art expression and freedom of expression.″

Close to 6,000 people lined up Friday night and filed through the museum to for an advance view of the exhibit in advance of today’s public opening. The exhibit includes nine homoerotic or sadomasochistic photos among the 175 on display.

″This crowd says a lot about the people of Cincinnati and their desire to express their freedoms,″ said museum director Dennis Barrie. ″I think it is a vindication of the exhibit.″

Earlier Friday, Hamilton County Municipal Judge Edward Donnellon dismissed a lawsuit in which the private museum had sought a summary judgment deeming the exhibit art, not obscenity.

His ruling appeared to clear the way for prosecutors to step in.

″We can do a lot of things. I’m not going to tell you what we’re going to do,″ said Hamilton County Prosecutor Arthur Ney Jr. ″I can’t discuss anything that I may, could, should or might do.″

The controversy has revealed two sides of Cincinnati, a city with a lively arts scene and a conservative law enforcement establishment whose suppression of pornography is viewed favorably by much of the population.

It also revived the dispute over the Mapplethorpe exhibit, canceled in June at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., but shown since in Philadelphia, Chicago, Hartford, Conn., Berkeley, Calif., and Boston.

The exhibit of the work by Mapplethorpe, who died of AIDS in March 1989, prompted Congress to limit funds for the arts after Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., declared the photographs obscene.

Rallies in support of the museum were held all week at the downtown plaza a block from the Arts Center.

Anti-smut campaigners protested Friday outside Donnellon’s courtroom. One held a sign saying ″Jesus is freedom for captives of pornography.″ Another declared: ″You can’t disguise pornography and get away with it in Cincinnati.″

Although police were not in evidence at Friday’s opening, fire marshals were. They ordered the center to let patrons in only one of the museum’s three entrances, forcing people to stand outside up to an hour in a block-long line.

Members paid $10 apiece to help offset the loss of $300,000 the Arts Center suffered because of the controversy over Mapplethorpe.

The museum lost that money because directors withdrew from the Fine Arts Fund, which sponsors and finances various groups in the Cincinnati area, because they feared the community uproar over Mapplethorpe would block contributions to all arts.

″A lot of people have joined just so they could be here tonight,″ said Bob Swaney, the museum staffer who prepared the Mapplethorpe exhibit. ″Our membership has risen by about 30 percent this week.

″One caller said, ’I have no interest in seeing this show, but the sheriff is making me buy a ticket.‴

The crowd, including well-dressed older folk and arty types in black turtlenecks, filed through the gallery until sometime after midnight.

Warning signs about controversial photos were posted at the door, and no one under 18 was admitted.

Barrie expressed concern about the show’s future.

″The ruling today was not a setback,″ he said. ″But since the matter’s not in court, we don’t know where it’s at.″

Last month, Sheriff Simon Leis Jr. declared the photographs criminally obscene. Leis, as county prosecutor, successfully prosecuted former Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt in the 1970s.

He and other officials have closed all of the city’s adult bookstores, and bylaws make it illegal for video stores to rent X-rated material.

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