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Agent Provocateur


In 1989 and '90 the photography exhibit "Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment" traveled to such cities as Boston and Washington, D.C., and was greeted with relatively mild controversy, considering the show's content, which included a self-portrait of Mapplethorpe with a bullwhip up his backside. But when "The Perfect Moment" touched down at Cincinnati's Contemporary Arts Center in April 1990, all hell broke loose. As the exhibit opened, a grand jury indicted the museum and its director, Dennis Barrie, on obscenity charges. U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms and the American Family Association's Donald Wildmon incited anger toward the exhibit, with Helms accusing the National Endowment for the Arts, which helped put together "The Perfect Moment," of bankrolling porn. However, when the case went to trial, eight jurors disagreed--they acquitted the museum and Barrie and cemented the legacy of Mapplethorpe, who died of AIDS in March 1989. "These pictures aimed to upset a certain element of the population while arousing everyone else," Village Voice columnist Michael Musto says. "Part of their success was that they raised so much ruckus among the booboisie."

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