CINCINNATI, SEPT. 24 -- The first day of jury selection in the historic obscenity trial of the Contemporary Arts Center and its director here was an exercise in frustration for the defense.

Judge David Albanese ruled against the gallery on motion after motion, and the initial group of prospective jurors emerged during questioning as a group that was largely conservative and indifferent to art.

"It's been a long day," defense attorney Louis Sirkin sighed as the session ended.

Of the first eight potential jurors questioned by the prosecution, only two said they visited art galleries. Several said they had never been to a gallery and had never heard of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

The arts center and its director, Dennis Barrie, were indicted last April for exhibiting Mapplethorpe's work, including homoerotic and sadomasochistic images as well as portraits of nude or semi-nude children.

The prosecution contends that five of the photographs are obscene and that the gallery violated a state law forbidding possession of materials showing minors in "nudity-oriented material." The case is the first in U.S. history in which a gallery has faced trial on obscenity charges.

Several hundred protesters marched outside the Hamilton County courthouse, carrying signs decrying "Censornati" and proclaiming support for Barrie. Dozens of uniformed officers were gathered on the courthouse steps, and the county's aggressively anti-pornography sheriff, Simon Leis Jr., put in an appearance.

Mounted police and SWAT team members also were present but protests were orderly -- even muted -- and no arrests were made.

Several prospective jurors questioned by the defense said they believe homosexual behavior should be restricted by law -- a bad sign for the gallery, considering the graphic nature of the five allegedly obscene photographs. One young woman said she believes homosexuality "goes against God's law" and would find pictures of homosexuality offensive.

Another candidate for the jury, a retired plant engineer, said he has sometimes visited galleries and generally prefers portraits, especially "if the eyes are beautiful and looking right at you."

Questioned by defense lawyer Marc Mezibov, the prospective juror said he wouldn't pay to see pictures of homosexuals, adding, "I know there are plenty {of homosexuals} around, and I've probably shaken hands with some." But he said he would judge a picture of homosexual activity "on the basis of what the law reads and what these pictures really are."

Prosecutor Frank Prouty focused on the prospective jurors' attitudes about art, asking if they had ever taken art classes. One replied that his son paints portraits based on photos in National Geographic Magazine. "Did he ever paint any nudes or anything like that?" Prouty asked. He said he hadn't.

Prouty also homedl in on attitudes about obscenity and child pornography. The defense contended that the court should dismiss the prospective jurors on the grounds that they had been prejudiced by Prouty's repeated allusions to child pornography. The judge refused.

Sirkin and Mezibov also argued without success that the jurors should be drawn only from the city of Cincinnati and not the surrounding area, since the Supreme Court has held that materials may be found obscene only if they violate community standards. But the judge said the court's jurisdiction is countywide and that jurors can be selected from the entire region.