Porn News

Dennis Barrie looks back on his Cincinnati obscenity trial 20 years after his acquittal

from – A timely email from his erstwhile attorney reminded Dennis Barrie that today is the 20th anniversary of his acquittal in the momentous Cincinnati obscenity trial over an exhibition of controversial photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe.

“I totally forgot, obviously,” said Barrie, director of cultural and interpretive planning at Westlake Reed Leskosky, a Cleveland architecture firm. “Lawyers never forget.”

Back then, Barrie was the embattled director of the Contemporary Arts Center, which exhibited the traveling Mapplethorpe exhibition, “The Perfect Moment,” a show that included a handful of homoerotic images from the photographer’s “X Portfolio.”

Barrie and the museum were acquitted on all counts after five days of testimony in which museum directors from around the U.S., including Evan Turner from the Cleveland Museum of Art, defended the right of the CAC to show the photographs.

The trial was believed to have been the first criminal trial of an art museum over the contents of an exhibition. H. Louis Sirkin of Cincinnati defended Barrie and the CAC.

A jury of four men and four women determined that the photographs did not meet the Supreme Court test of obscenity, which holds that the work would have to be “patently offensive,” and taken as a whole, lacking in “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”

If convicted, the center would have faced fines of up to $10,000; Barrie could have faced a year in jail and fines up to $2,000.

The exhibition, which had traveled to museums in Hartford, Ct., and Berkeley, Calif., before arriving in Cincinnati, had been canceled at the Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington, D.C., which feared it would lose federal funding if it hosted the show.

At the time, conservative Republicans including former U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, made the Mapplethorpe exhibition a focus of tirades in the so-called culture war over federal funding of the arts through the National Endowment for the Arts.

Barrie said he thought local political officials and police felt emboldened by the climate to go after the exhibition in Cincinnati.

Police raided the exhibition on the show’s opening day, April 7, handing an indictment to Barrie and demanding that the exhibition be closed so they could gather evidence. Barrie had to calm a crowd of 1,000 spectators waiting in an atrium. He said he and others at the time feared the raid would touch off a violent protest.

The show soon reopened, and none of the controversial photos were removed, Barrie said.

Looking back, Barrie said he thought arts institutions such as the CAC made an easy target.

Since then, he said conservatives moved on to “bigger targets including schools, television, textbooks. When you could change what’s taught in a school district, evolution, that’s much more impactful.”

Barrie said he thought his trial made American art museums much more cautious about the content of exhibitions for about a decade.

That period ended when the Brooklyn Art Museum raised a ruckus with its “Sensation” exhibition in 2000 focusing on controversial works by the so-called Young British Artists promoted by collector Charles Saatchi.

Since then, the art world has seemed not to matter in serious cultural debates because contemporary art has become a plaything of the wealthy, he said.

“The art world is so marginal to the life experience of most people in America,” he said. “It’s gone the way of a lot of rich people gathering and patting each other on the back at some extravaganza in Miami or Basel.”

Barrie said the Cincinnati trial propelled his career in new directions, including a stint as director of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, and president of the Malrite Co., which developed the Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

He joined Westlake Reed Leskosky in 2005, where his projects include developing the Mob Museum in Las Vegas with his wife and partner, Kathy Barrie.

Barrie said he’s proud of having been the protagonist in a controversy so prominent it sparked “Dirty Pictures,” a 2000 made-for-TV movie in which his role was played by James Woods.

“I won’t say it didn’t have painful aspects,” Barrie said. “It was very trying and caused a lot of personal stress.”

Barrie is still called upon to speak about the raid and the trial in Cincinnati as he did last week to a class of college students at the Cleveland Institute of Art.

He said he told them, “It’s 20 years ago, most of you weren’t born,” he said. “They all just laughed.”


Related Posts

Save the Date: AVN House Party Returns on July 25

AVN Media Network is pleased to announce plans to bring back the biggest event of the summer—the AVN House Party—on Thursday, July 25.

UK Tory Minister Blames Joblessness Crisis on Pornography, Video Games

LONDON — The U.K. Tory government’s Work and Pensions Secretary this week blamed “pornography and video games” for what he called “a mental health crisis among young men” which resulted in them leaving the workforce.Mel Stride, a career Conservative politician…

Democratic Senator Dick Durbin Holds Press Conference With Anti-Porn Crusading Group NCOSE

WASHINGTON — Democratic U.S. Senator for Illinois Dick Durbin participated in a joint press conference Wednesday with the CEO of crusading anti-porn crusading group NCOSE (formerly Morality in Media).The press conference was organized by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham to marshall support…

VMG Celebrates 10th Anniv. of Blacked With Scene, Gear Rollout

Vixen Media Group is celebrating the milestone 10th anniversary of its original brand Blacked with a string of high-profile releases under the banner and the introduction of a new collection of items in its Blacked apparel line.

U of Wisconsin Professor Pens Essay About Crusade to Get Him Fired for Creating Adult Content

LA CROSSE, Wis. — The veteran University of Wisconsin academic who was removed from his post as chancellor last year because he had made adult content, penned a piece for The Chronicle of Higher Education detailing his ordeal and ongoing attempts…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.