CINCINNATI, OCT. 5 -- A jury of four men and four women took less than two hours today to find the Contemporary Arts Center and its director, Dennis Barrie, not guilty on charges that they pandered obscenity by displaying an exhibit of photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe.
Both defendants also were acquitted on charges that they violated a state law against use of materials depicting nude minors.
"Robert Mapplethorpe was a great artist. It was a tremendous show. We should have never been here in court... . But I'm glad the system does work," Barrie said after the verdict.
The crowd at the defendants' table erupted into applause and tears as the last of the verdicts was read. The case was the first in which an art gallery was tried on obscenity charges.
The gallery faced $10,000 in fines, and Barrie faced a $2,000 fine and a year in prison.
All eight jurors declined to speak to reporters and were escorted out of the courthouse as soon as the judge dismissed them.
Roger Ach, the chairman of the arts center board, and Robert Allen, the business executive who sponsored the exhibit, stood and embraced each other. Judge David Albanese angrily ordered them out of his courtroom.
As a court clerk read the first "not guilty" verdict in a wavering voice, tears welled in the eyes of Amy Bannister, the reserved spokeswoman for the arts center who had sat at the defendants' table as the gallery's representative throughout the two-week proceedings.
The jurors, who had sat expressionless as the attorneys argued the cases and an array of art experts praised Mapplethorpe's work, remained unemotional as the verdicts were read.
After the final "not guilty," the foreman -- a stout, square-jawed secretary who wore her dark blond hair in a ponytail -- smiled briefly.
Prosecutor Frank Prouty declined to comment on the defeat. "It went before a jury. The jury made a decision," he said.
The gallery and Barrie were indicted on April 7, the day the Mapplethorpe exhibit opened to record crowds at the arts center.
Local authorities had quietly brought a grand jury through the gallery that morning. Hours later, sheriff's officers swept into the gallery with a search warrant and an indictment. As an angry crowd of gallery supporters chanted outside, police cleared the gallery and shot a videotape to be used as evidence.
The jurors never saw that tape, since the judge ruled that they could consider only the seven photographs cited in the indictment.
The defense had contended that jurors should view all 175 images in the show, including figure studies and pictures of calla lilies. The Supreme Court has ruled that material must be evaluated "as a whole" when determining whether it is obscene.
The obscenity charges were based on five graphic depictions of homosexual and sadomasochistic activities. Barrie and the gallery were also indicted for displaying two portraits of young children whose genitals were visible.
The jury included one college graduate. The rest described themselves during jury selection as working-class churchgoers who had little interest in art. They included a phone company worker, a warehouse manager, a data processor and an X-ray technician.
After the verdict, a mob of reporters surrounded Barrie and defense attorneys Louis Sirkin and Marc Mezibov.
"It's been 17 years that I've been fighting ... and this is the greatest win," Sirkin said. "... We're glad that we go into history as a winner."
Alluding to the famous Scopes trial, in which a teacher was convicted for teaching the theory of evolution, Sirkin said, "We're better than Clarence Darrow. He lost."
Mezibov said he was confident as soon as the jury was selected that the gallery and Barrie would be acquitted. But Barrie said he had his ups and downs throughout the trial.
"The time I felt most confident was when they interviewed those jurors," he said. "They were average, everyday people. Maybe they didn't go to museums but they said there shouldn't be restrictions on adults.
I also ... was encouraged by the way they listened to me when I had a chance to talk to them." Barrie was the final witness for the defense.
He added that "there were some dark moments yesterday" when the judge permitted Judith Reisman, a communications specialist, to testify as a prosecution witness on her "content analysis" of the photographs. The defense had argued that she had no relevant expertise and that her testimony was prejudicial.
Prouty had rested his case after calling only three police officers as witnesses to testify to events in the days before the show opened. He introduced no expert witnesses on Mapplethorpe's merit as an artist. Reisman appeared as a rebuttal witness but not as an art expert. The Supreme Court has ruled that material cannot be deemed obscene if it has serious artistic value.
The Mapplethorpe exhibit set off an ongoing furor over freedom of expression and federal funding of the arts. The controversy was ignited in 1989 when the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington canceled the exhibit, which was subsequently shown without incident at the Washington Project for the Arts. The exhibit began in Philadelphia and traveled to Berkeley, Calif.; Hartford, Conn.; and Boston without incident.
The Rev. Donald E. Wildmon, whose American Family Association in Tupelo, Miss., has fought National Endowment for the Arts funding for exhibits such as the Mapplethorpe show, told the Associated Press today: "This is not a landmark, Pearl Harbor decision. This was just another obscenity trial."
In closing arguments earlier today, Prouty insisted that the children's portraits were not "morally innocent," a defense under Ohio law. "Did you ever try to prop some child on the back of a chair and then tell him to spread his legs?" Prouty said, alluding to a portrait of a little boy.
Defense lawyer Mezibov, speaking for the arts center, told jurors that his client was relieved to have them decide the case. "Through you ... we are going to put to rest once and for all a controversy which has wracked this community."
The previous evening, Mezibov told the jurors, he had watched the first baseball playoff game between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh and was "touched and excited to see this city lit up for the entire country to see. You have the opportunity to light up this city once again."