What Did Robert
Mapplethorpe Teach Us?

Why the Artist’s Iconic Photographs Still Provoke and Inspire Us

I Defended Mapplethorpe in the Trial That Drew the Line Between Art and Obscenity

I Defended Mapplethorpe in the Trial That Drew the Line Between Art and Obscenity

Cincinnati’s Famous Case Tussled With the Photographer’s Work and Its Place in Our Culture

On the Friday in 1990 when the collection of 175 photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe, called “The Perfect Moment,” previewed at the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) in Cincinnati, 8,000 people showed up to see them.

The CAC was seven blocks from my law office. On the Saturday morning that the exhibit opened to the public, we heard that the Hamilton County prosecutor had empaneled a grand jury to get an indictment by noon, so we sent out scouts to determine when the police were going to arrest the CAC’s director, Dennis Barrie. But Cincinnati is a small town, and our scouts told us that the cops had stopped for lunch along the way. …


How a Museum Cancelling a Controversial Mapplethorpe Exhibition Changed My Life

As an Intern at the Corcoran, I Suddenly Understood the Power of Art

Twenty-seven years ago, controversy erupted over Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs. It changed my life.

In June 1989, I was 22, a newly declared art history major at Northwestern University, about to start an internship at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The child of an art teacher and a psychiatrist who grew up in the small, accepting town of Lincoln, …


People Are Still Arguing About Robert Mapplethorpe, and It’s Not About Porn

His Photos No Longer Have Shock Value but They Still Challenge Us

Nearly three decades after the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe escalated the culture wars and made him an embattled hero in the art world, his work continues to provoke and inspire, said panelists at a Zócalo Public Square/Getty “Open Art” event.

An overflow crowd gathered at the West Hollywood City Council Chambers …


Why I Don't Blame Cincinnati for Putting Art on Trial

Mapplethorpe’s Work Can Promote Tolerance and Understanding, But Not in the Way You Think

I grew up in a suburb of Cincinnati where even the rebellions were quaint. We drank wine coolers, drove before we got our licenses because an unusually cool senior was lax with his Pinto, painted graffiti on the water tower.

The summer after I graduated high school, in 1989, I worked in a Subway sandwich shop and dated Sara Rushing. It took me years to realize I had never been happier, watching Field of Dreams with Sara and making …


By continuing to use our website, you agree to our privacy and cookie policy.

Get More Zócalo

No paywall. No ads. No partisan hacks. Ideas journalism with a head and a heart.

You may opt out or contact us anytime.