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Dirty Pictures

BACK IN 1990, the obscenity charges brought against the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center and its director, Dennis Barrie, sent shock waves through the art world. The fact that Barrie faced a possible prison term gave pause to art professionals everywhere. The occasion for the criminal proceedings was an exhibition that the Arts Center had rented from the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute of Contemporary Art. Titled “The Perfect Moment,” the show was a survey of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs first mounted in Philadelphia in 1988. By the time the exhibition reached Cincinnati, the artist had been dead a year, and the show had already traveled to Chicago, Washington, DC, Hartford, and Berkeley, with its final destination scheduled in Boston.

The Washington stop, however, marked the onset of the court battle that would ultimately erupt in Ohio. “The Perfect Moment” had been scheduled

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