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, Massachusetts, I’d been going to museums in the Boston area, and making and looking at art, since I was young. I lived just a short distance from the de Cordova …