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Starting today, as part of the Year in Art Effort, every week Washington Project for The Arts and BYT will come together to give you a tidbit of the (some may say surprisingly?) colorful DC Art History. Be ready to be a cocktail party conversation star:


Ever been told you couldn’t do something and it only made you want to do it more? That’s what happened when “The Perfect Moment: Robert Mapplethorpe Photographs” exhibition was canceled at the Corcoran Gallery of Art a month before it was supposed to debut in June 1989.

Mapplethorpe’s collection of photographs included images of homosexuality, sadomasochism, nudity and of children in erotic positions. For the late 80’s, it was a groundbreaking exhibit that pushed the boundaries of social norms, but it also enraged conservative lawmakers in DC. The outraged contigent included congressmen who were in control of the funding of the National Endowment for the Arts, which sponsored the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

Corcoran officials said the cancellation of Mapplethorpe’s show was because they did not want to jeopardize the NEA’s congressional funding. (excuses!)

DC area  artists and supporters were outraged at this uncalled for censorship. So the Washington Project for the Arts banded together along with private contributors and brought the Mapplethorpe exhibition to DC.

Not only was the show phenomenal, but the crowds that poured out of their homes to see it were record breaking. From July 21 – August 13, 1989, 35,000 visitors experienced the show. This is a standing record for the Washington Project for the Arts. All of the visitors had opinions about the show being canceled at the Corcoran and why lawmakers should keep to themselves.

video courtesy of Linda Lewett, ARTtv LLC

The combination of outpouring support for Mapplethorpe’s exhibit and the outrage at the censorship  inspired a rally outside of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. The photographs from Mapplethorpe’s show were projected onto the exterior of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, while gay rights activities, civil liberty activist and artists picketed outside the Corcoran.

image courtesy of ArtForum

image courtesy of ArtForum

WPAC_pms200_k_jb Washington Project for the Arts is celebrating it’s 35th Birthday this Year. Learn more here: http://www.wpadc.org/

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