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Judge Refuses to Intervene in Mapplethorpe Exhibit

April 7, 1990

CINCINNATI (AP) _ A preview exhibit of Robert Mapplethorpe’s sexually explicit photographs opened Friday night, just hours after a judge’s ruling gave prosecutors a free hand to act against the show.

The photos, once denounced by U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms and the target of a large local protest, drew an overflow crowd for a preview open only to members of the Contemporary Arts Center. It was to open to the public Saturday.

An hour after the show opened, a museum attendant estimated 1,000 people had already seen the photos and a block-long line formed outside. There was no protest at the preview began, though several hundred demonstrators showed up earlier Friday for a court hearing. More than 3,000 tickets were sold.

At the hearing, Hamilton County Municipal Judge Edward Donnellon dismissed a lawsuit by the arts center seeking a ruling on whether the show was obscene. The suit was seen as an attempt to pre-empt any effort by local authorities to close the show. Donnellon dismissed the suit for lack of legal standing.

After the ruling, prosecutors declined to say whether they would press obscenity charges.

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

Arts center lawyer Marc Mezibov said the exhibit will open to the public as scheduled.

″The show will go on,″ Mezibov said. ″I would assume as public officials if they intend to bring criminal charges they would have brought that to the attention of the court.″

However, another lawyer representing the arts center said he feared authorities will move against the exhibit.

″In this county you always live with a certain degree of fear,″ said the lawyer, H. Louis Sirkin.

Hamilton County is a hub for anti-pornography activities. A citizens group has dubbed nine of Mapplethorpe’s works obscene and demanded that they be banned from the 175-photograph exhibit.

Last month, Sheriff Simon Leis Jr. declared that the photographs were criminally obscene. That was one reason the art center went to court, expecting charges.

In June, the Mapplethorpe exhibit was canceled at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

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

It has been shown in Philadelphia, Chicago, Hartford, Conn., Berkeley, Calif., and Boston.

The exhibit includes photographs of homosexual and sadomasochistic sex acts.

Several hundred supporters and opponents of the Mapplethorpe exhibit gathered in front of the courthouse Friday afternoon during the hearing. Police kept the two sides separate.

Supporters carried banners that said, ″If you give artists freedom of expression, soon every American will want it.″ Opponents’ signs said, ″We want decency in Cincinnati,″ and ″God is against pornography. So are we.″

The show is scheduled to run through May 26. Warning signs about the photos’ content are posted at the center door, and no one under age 18 will be admitted.

During the hearing, Assistant City Solicitor Karl Kadon accused the arts center of making the photographic exhibit a public issue. He said he also objected to the top law enforcement officials of the city and county being ″painted as Neanderthal barbarians of some sort.″

Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Robert Taylor, representing the county, also took umbrage at the art center’s lawsuit.

″We’re not going to let the CAC or anybody from New York come into Hamilton County and dictate to our elected officials what we will and will not do,″ Taylor said.

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