PRINT September 1989


Censorship in the Arts

THE CANCELLATION OF “ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE: The Perfect Moment,” a retrospective that had been scheduled to open on July 1, 1989, at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington (following exhibitions in Philadelphia and Chicago), came down amid an effulgence of right-wing activism: several disastrous civil rights rulings by the Supreme Court, and a widespread demagogic reaction to the Court’s single intellectually reputable decision of the season (which decriminalized flag-burning), gave the Corcoran’s act of self-censorship an especially ominous resonance.

The Corcoran’s stated purpose was to avoid a confrontation with congressional zealots during a sensitive moment when National Endowment for the Arts funding was being deliberated. Given the content of Mapplethorpe’s work, the gallery was anticipating trouble from the “morality brigade.” There had already been a hue and cry over the NEA’s funding

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