Within this paper, there will be a brief review of Robert Mapplethorpe artistic life along with the public outcry regarding his considerably controversial photos which were featured within the “Perfect moment” exhibition. Within the paper, an explanation will be given on the reasons which made numerous individuals make the general conclusion that some of the Mapplethorpe’s photos featured within the said exhibition were obscene, as well as, unethical. Afterwards, the paper will bring about various facts about art works with the objective of proving that it was perfectly ethical and moral for the Mapplethorpe’s photos to be featured within the exhibition. Mapplethorpe grew up as an English Roman Catholic with an Irish heritage. Mapplethorpe’s parents were Harry along with Joan Mapplethorpe. He studied in the Pratt Institute which is located within Brooklyn where he was undertaking a B.F.A majoring in graphic arts. However, Mapplethorpe prematurely left the institution in 1969 prior to the completion of his degree course. Mapplethorpe’s companion Patti Smith worked in bookstores and with her support, Mapplethorpe began producing various artworks. Mapplethorpe was actually gay. Basically, Mapplethorpe gained popularity within the artistic world as a result of the highly stylized flowers along with nude men portraits which he produced in black and white at a large scale rate of production.
In the course of the early 1990s, the Mapplethorpe’s artistic works which he had branded as ‘X Portfolio series’ sparked national attention once they were displayed within ‘The Perfect Moment’ travelling exhibition. The exhibition in question was actually funded by the Arts’ National Endowment organization. The exhibition was held at the Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center within Ohio in the year, 1990. The exhibition is considered to have been basically controversial since the very onset. It received relatively negative reaction from the public together with calls to have the exhibit closed down. Majority of the individuals nationally held the views that some of the Mapplethorpe’s photos were not supposed to be featured within the exhibition because they were not only unethical but also obscene. These individuals felt that the exhibition organizers had acted against the obscenity statute which illegalizes the promotion, display or exhibition of any material which can be considered as obscene within the Ohio’s precincts.
Within the aforementioned exhibition, a total of 175 pictures were displayed but seven of them were considerably controversial leading to the prosecution of the exhibition organizers (Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center together with its director). The charges placed against them were those of “pandering obscenity”. However, the court gave the ruling that the accused were not guilty due to various factors which will be outlined later on within this paper. Two of the controversial pictures featured male and female naked minors, whereby the graphic focus was basically on the genitals. The rest of the objected pictures featured five men who had made characteristically uncommon sadomasochistic poses. These are some of the aspects of the pictures which made them to be considered as obscene. The other factor which made the exhibition to be considered as unethical was that the X Portfolio generally comprised of the artist’s most explicit imagery. The obscenity was aggravated further by the artist’s individual portrait of a bull whip which was inserted within his anus. In addition to this, Mapplethorpe’s photographs were considered as sexually charged, as well as, exploitive due to the fact that they mainly comprised of nude black men’s images.
On the other hand, the photographs were ruled out as unethical because their imagery mainly comprised of racial undertones. The degree in which the work was unethical was amplified by Glenn Ligon’s critical works entitled as ‘the Black Book’. The obscenity and failure to observe basic ethics brought about various controversies. The exhibit brought about national concerns on issues relating to the arts’ funding, who should be responsible of defining what should be regarded as obscene and the nature of censorship which is should be termed as acceptable. There were also concerns about whether the freedom of speech also covered art works. There were also controversies the withdrawal of federal funding on such exhibitions on the basis of obscenity would be considered to be against provisions outlined within the First Amendment. Among the people who considered the works in question as obscene were the Corcoran hierarchies along with various U.S Congress members. In the actual sense, these groups of people became totally upset once the revelations of the works were made to them. Moreover, these groups viewed these works as relatively unethical due to the fact that its themes were at a greater degree both homoerotic and sadomasochistic. By alleging that the themes were homoerotic, those against the works meant that the pictures in question generally portrayed the desires of home sexual. In regard to the sadomasochistic theme, the pictures were generally sadism along with masochism combination. In other different words, they were particularly derived from sexual gratification thereby inflicting emotional abuse to the viewers. The