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Museum Witnesses Defend Explicit Photographs as Art

October 2, 1990

CINCINNATI (AP) _ Robert Mapplethorpe was one of the most important photographers of the 1980s, says a museum director who rushed to get his work on display before he died of AIDS.

″I felt it was my responsibility as a curator to work with him while he was alive,″ Janet Kardon, director of New York’s American Craft Museum, testified Monday at the obscenity trial of a colleague for showing seven of the pictures.

″It’s the job of a contemporary curator to record history even while it’s happening,″ she said.

More defense testimony was scheduled for today in the trial of the Contemporary Arts Center and its director, Dennis Barrie, on charges of obscenity and using children in nudity-related material.

If convicted in the nation’s first obscenity trial of a museum, Barrie could receive a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. The gallery could be fined $10,000.

Ms. Kardon was director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute of Contemporary Art when the Mapplethorpe exhibit was assembled.

The seven photographs in question are among 175 pictures in the exhibit, which was on display in Cincinnati for seven weeks ending May 26. The work is now in Boston. Mapplethorpe died of AIDS in March 1989.

Jurors on Monday got their first look at the seven photos, glancing at them with no visible reaction as they were passed around. Five of the photographs show sexually graphic acts involving men, and two show naked children.

Ms. Kardon, asked by a prosecutor to describe the artistic merit of four of the sexually explicit photos, said they were artistically lighted and framed and showed symmetry and use of horizontal and vertical lines.

″He was one of the most important photographers working in the ’80s,″ Ms. Kardon said.

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