CINCINNATI, OCT. 1 -- The jury in the Mapplethorpe obscenity trial got its first look today at the five graphic images at issue in the case, while two expert witnesses were asked to address the perennial question: Is it art?

The pictures were shown to jurors as Janet Kardon, the former director of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, explained her thinking in 1987 and 1988 when she assembled the controversial retrospective of Robert Mapplethorpe's work.

"There will be no comment," Judge David Albanese admonished the jurors as they were handed the pictures, which depict homosexual and sadomasochistic acts. The four men and four women on the panel sat tight-lipped as they passed the photographs among themselves.

The trial, in its second day of testimony, is the first in U.S. history in which an art gallery has faced obscenity charges. The Contemporary Arts Center and its director, Dennis Barrie, also are charged with violating a state law barring possession of materials depicting a minor in a state of nudity. The two photographs involving children were not shown to the jury today.

Earlier in the day, the prosecution rested after introducing the photographs into evidence and calling as witnesses three members of the Cincinnati police department. The defense argued unsuccessfully that the prosecution had failed to make a case and asked the court to acquit Barrie and the arts center.

Appearing in response to a subpoena, Kardon testified that she believes the five images in question have serious artistic value. Prosecutor Frank Prouty asked her to explain how she decided "what makes something art."

Kardon cited "the intent and the qualifications of the person that has made {the work} and the judgment of professionals that work with these matters."

Prouty asked Kardon for her specific appraisal of each image. She cited factors such as lighting and composition. "You call them figure studies; I might call them sex acts," Prouty said.

He asked for her comment on a picture of a fist and forearm inserted into a man's anus.

"The forearm is in the very center of the picture, which is very characteristic of his flowers, which often occupy the center of the photograph. And the stamen comes forward {like the forearm}," Kardon said.

Prouty asked her about a photograph of a finger inserted in a penis. "Interestingly enough, Robert Mapplethorpe commented on this very image and spoke about how beautiful he thought the hand gesture was," she said.

Attorneys for the defense tried repeatedly to get Kardon to explain that the five images are part of a larger work of art. The pictures are among 39 photographs in Mapplethorpe's "X,Y,Z" portfolio, which the artist intended to be exhibited as a group.

But the judge had ruled before the trial that the jury should focus only on the images cited in the indictment and he stopped Kardon from describing the portfolio or discussing the theme of the Mapplethorpe exhibit.

The "X,Y,Z" portfolio finally was described, however, when Jacquelynn Baas, director of the University Art Museum in Berkeley, Calif., took the stand. The Mapplethorpe show was exhibited at Baas's gallery without incident.

During his cross-examination, Prouty asked how the five allegedly obscene works related to other images in the exhibit. The judge said that opened the door for the defense to pursue the same line of questioning.

Accordingly, Baas testified that the "X,Y,Z" portfolio includes pictures of flowers as well as nudes, and that the 39 images in the work are related.

"The shapes would be repeated or the arrangement of forms in general would be repeated, or there would be sometimes a contrast," she said. "... You considered these quite different images and tried to make a meaning out of them in your mind."

Baas testified that at her museum, "the whole staff felt strongly" that the five pictures served a legitimate purpose in the retrospective.

She said a work has serious artistic value because of its technical quality and because "there is content and subject matter that are effectively conveyed."

Prouty turned to one of the pictures and asked Baas to describe its artistic value.

"It's the tension between the physical beauty of the photograph and the brutal nature of what's going on in it that gives it the particular quality that this work of art has," she responded.

Prouty asked if the content of a work ever carries more weight than its form. "Are you looking at the content or are you looking around the content?" he said. Baas replied, "The subject and the means of conveying the subject are quite intertwined."

"When you put something in an art museum or an art gallery, do you give it legitimacy?" Prouty asked.

"We put things out for people to consider in a thoughtful way," she answered. "We're an educational institution."

Kardon also tried to bolster the defense's contention that the show has artistic and historic value. She said Mapplethorpe was "one of the most important photographers working in the '80s in the formalist mode."

Formalism "has to do less with subject matter and more to do with light, color, composition {and} arrangement," she explained.

She put together the Mapplethorpe show because "I felt it my responsibility as a curator to work with him while he was alive so I could get as much information as possible directly from the artist." Mapplethorpe died of AIDS in 1989.

When the show traveled to Cincinnati, Barrie was contractually obligated to exhibit all the pictures, Kardon testified. Any changes would "distort" the retrospective, she said.

Attorneys Marc Mezibov and Louis Sirkin contended that the prosecution had not introduced any evidence that the pictures lack artistic value or that they violated community standards, key elements in the Supreme Court's test for determining whether materials are entitled to First Amendment protection.

Prouty said the pictures "demonstrate a content that far outweighs whatever artistic value" they might have."