"Not the church, not the state, we decide what art is great."
The nation's eyes were on Cincinnati, Ohio on this day in 1990 for the opening of the controversial Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit, The Perfect Moment. By the end of the day obscenity charges were brought against the Contemporary Arts Center and its director, Dennis Barrie, for curating the nude photography collection. In October of that year a jury ruled in favor of free speech and artistic expression. The case had people around the world discussing the question, What is art?
Mapplethorpe never got to see his profound impact, he died the year prior of complications from AIDS. Often overshadowed by his sexuality, his work was labeled gay pornography and perversion. The controversy over his exhibit blurred the lines between freedom of speech and GLBT discrimination. That story was retold last week in an excellent retrospective on Cincinnati.com, Pornography or art? Cincinnati decided.
Exactly nineteen years from the opening of the Mapplethorpe exhibit, Vermont State Senate and House voted to override a governor's veto on same-sex marriage. Vermont became the 5th state to recognize legal marriage for same-sex couples on this day in 2009.
[In related news: It was announced in 2012 that James Franco would star in a Mapplethorpe biopic, though the current status of that production is not known. Check out these stunning photos of James Franco posing as Robert Mapplethorpe from GQ Germany.]