CINCINNATI, OCT. 2 -- Jurors in the Mapplethorpe obscenity trial got their first look today at the photographs of two children that served as the basis for charges that an art gallery and its director violated a law against possession of material depicting a minor in a state of nudity.
As the trial entered its third day of testimony, attorneys defending the Contemporary Arts Center and Director Dennis Barrie read depositions in which the mothers of both children said they regard the portraits as innocent and said they had given photographer Robert Mapplethorpe permission to exhibit them.
One shows Jesse, a naked boy perched on the back of a couch. The other is Rosie, a little girl crouching on a bench, whose dress hangs in such a manner that her genitals are visible.
Attorneys read a deposition taken in London from Lady Beatrix Mary Nevill, Rosie's mother. Nevill said the picture was taken in 1976 at a weekend wedding celebration at her house in northern England. The picture was taken with her consent and published in two catalogues, she said.
"It did not occur to me that there was anything in this photo that could offend anybody," she said. " ... I think it's a very charming photograph."
Jesse's mother, Clarissa Dalrymple, said in a deposition taken in New York that she was present at her apartment when Mapplethorpe photographed her son, who was naked because he had just taken a shower. "I asked Robert, being a close friend and a top photographer, to take a photo of my son," she said.
"Were things highlighted, such as his genitals?" the prosecutor asked.
Dalrymple replied, "No."
The prosecution established that neither mother had given formal written consent before the arts center was indicted. The defense tried to show that consent was implicit. "I knew that if a photograph was a good one, he would most inevitably publish it," Nevill said.
The jury also heard testimony from Cincinnati Post art critic Jerry Stein, who had said in a review that the children's portraits were "most innocent and nonsexual." In court, he said the pictures were the equivalent of Renaissance cherubs or "modern-day angels."
Prosecutor Frank Prouty asked Stein about the lines in Jesse's pictures. "His legs are spread apart?" he demanded.
"I think those appendages are positioned to keep the child in balance on the back of the couch," Stein replied.
"Isn't the focus primarily between the legs of the child, the penis area?" Prouty pursued.
"Mr. Prouty, I don't have that reading of the direction of the lines," Stein responded.
"Could anyone?" Prouty said.
Defense attorney Marc Mezibov objected. "The only person that seems to have that reading is Mr. Prouty," he said.
Turning to the picture of Rosie, Prouty asked, "Isn't the dress somewhat hiked up to show the vaginal area?" Stein said he could not say that it was. But he said "each person would have the liberty to focus on any aspect that they may see."
Earlier, the defense had played a videotaped deposition taken from Robert Sobieszek, a senior curator at the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y. Sobieszek tried to bolster the defense's argument that the seven photographs cited in the indictment should be considered in the context of the entire exhibit.
"One picture on a wall is one thing," he said. "Put another picture on either side of it and everything changes."
But Sobieszek said he saw artistic merit in each of the five depictions of homosexual and sadomasochistic activity cited in the obscenity indictment. Asked by Prouty to elaborate, Sobieszek said the pictures were partly an attempt on Mapplethorpe's part to explore his own psychology.
"It's not unlike van Gogh painting himself with his ear cut off," Sobieszek said. "He's trying to understand what's going on with himself. Visual artists do that all the time."
That argument was also advanced by Stein, who compared the five pictures to a diary that was "healing" for the artist. "In 20th-century art in particular, artists often use their art, the creative process, to work through a particular problem, their anxiety, or something that perplexes them," Stein said.
During Sobieszek's testimony, Prouty asked whether communities are "more or less at the mercy of the local curator" when it comes to the type of material that will be exhibited in museums. "I think most curators take their mission very seriously and they're not trying to dupe the public," Sobieszek replied.
Prouty asked whether members of a local community can decide what is art. "They could make a personal determination that it's not art, but whether it would hold up across the culture is something else," Sobieszek said.
The jury also heard from John Walsh, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and former president of the Association of Art Museum Directors. Walsh said the arts center is a museum according to that association's criteria.
"Should citizens of a local community have the right to decide what comes in?" Prouty asked.
"I think they have a right to decide where they go," Walsh said.
"Each community could have an opinion of what is or is not art?" Prouty asked.
"I have a hard time understanding how a community could express that," Walsh replied.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati police have charged 35 demonstrators who protested the trial in front of the courthouse last week with disorderly conduct. They have been able to identify only two of the demonstrators;
the rest are listed as John or Jane Doe. The police reportedly hope to identify the others using their own videotapes and footage shot by local television stations.
Protesters from gay-rights organizations plan to demonstrate again on the day of the verdict, said Carol Lippmann, one of the two demonstrators named by police. "We have a point to make," she said. "They're just trying to use scare tactics." The maximum penalty for disorderly conduct is a $116 fine, but Lippmann said she will contest the charge.