A new two-hour documentary looks at the provocative photos and life of Robert Mapplethorpe, including the ones which brought obscenity charges against Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center in 1990.
“Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures” (9 p.m. Monday, April 4, HBO) looks at the artist, who died of AIDS in 1988, through preparations for simultaneous Mapplethorpe retrospectives at the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (“Inside Deep Throat,” “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”) had “complete and unprecedented access” to the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, archival materials and never-before-seen photographs,” according to HBO’s publicity.
“Even his most shocking and forbidden images are included without blurs, without snickers – in other words, exactly as the artist intended,” say Bailey and Barbato in the release.
HBO says the film will look at “The Perfect Moment,” his photo show at the CAC in 1990, a year after Mapplethorpe died of AIDS. The CAC and then director Dennis Barrie were indicted by Hamilton County Prosecutor Art Ney on obscenity charges on April 7, the opening day for the exhibit of 175 Mapplethorpe photographs in downtown Cincinnati.
It was believed to be the first criminal trial for an art museum arising from an exhibition’s content, according to the New York Times.
The CAC and Barrie were acquitted on all charges by a jury of four men and four women on Oct. 5, 1990, in a case before Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge David Albanese.
The indictment cited seven photographs. Five showed men in sadomasochistic poses, two were of children with their genitals exposed.
The exhibit came to Cincinnati after the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., canceled “The Perfect Moment” when conservative Sen. Jesse Helms, a North Carolina Republican, questioned National Endowment for the Arts funding for “filthy and offensive art.” The HBO show title refers to Helm’s comments to “look at the pictures” in denouncing Mapplethorpe.
HBO calls the documentary “a revealing look at one of the most important artists of the 20th century."
Showtime dramatized the CAC court battle in a 2000 movie called “Dirty Pictures” starring James Woods (as Barrie) and Craig T. Nelson (as Sheriff Simon Leis).
Here's a link to the HBO trailer.