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Revisiting an ‘Imperfect Moment’ in Corcoran’s Past with ‘6.13.89: The Cancelling of the Mapplethorpe Exhibition’

Protest of the cancellation of Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment, June 30, 1989, Washington, DC. ©Frank Herrera

30 Years to the Day ‘Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment’ Was Cancelled, GW’s Corcoran School of the Arts and Design and the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery Reflect on the Past with New Exhibitions

June 13, 2019

Amelia Thompson: [email protected], 202-994-6461
Maralee Csellar: [email protected], 202-994-6460

WASHINGTON (June 13, 2019)—Thirty years ago the D.C. arts community found itself in the midst of the culture wars when the Corcoran Gallery of Art was set to open an exhibition of works by controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Now, the George Washington University’s Corcoran School of the Arts and Design will look back at the mounting pressures the gallery faced with the new exhibit, “6.13.19: The Cancelling of the Mapplethorpe Exhibition,” running through October 6.

On June 13, 1989, the Corcoran Gallery of Art bowed to significant political pressure and cancelled the planned retrospective, “Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment,” less than three weeks before it was scheduled to open to the public. The show was slated to display more than 150 works by the late photographer who was known for his bold depictions of the human form including explicit homoerotic and violent images. Since the exhibition was being partially financed by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Corcoran’s former director, Christina Orr-Cahall, feared its funding would be pulled and protests would ensue. This led to her decision to cancel the exhibition. Ironically, protests were held by the D.C. arts community following the cancellation.

“6.13.89” will showcase an uncensored look at the Corcoran’s decisions to cancel the show with the use of archival materials on public display for the first time. Rather than the Mapplethorpe photography featured in the original exhibition, “6.13.89” will present select historic documents, internal memos, board-meeting minutes call logs and the press release cancelling “The Perfect Moment,” as well as related ephemera about subsequent protests and events in the D.C. area. The archival materials are part of the Corcoran archives at GW’s Gelman Library, a presenting partner of the new exhibition.

“The Corcoran has gone through some incredible reincarnations over the period of time since that failed exhibition so we’re not just marking the anniversary but recognizing the implications of what occurred on the 13th of June, 1989,” Sanjit Sethi, the current director of the Corcoran School said. “This is an important step for an institution to move forward into the future, especially one that has core beliefs regarding empathy, creativity and innovation.”

A Time for Action: Washington Artists Circa 1989,” is a companion exhibition opening at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery on the same day as “6.13.89.” This exhibition will display paintings, drawings and prints from the GW Collection by artists who registered their protest of the cancellation of the 1989exhibition. Several artists who were in Washington at the time, including Clark V. Fox, Andrew Hudson, Eric Rudd, Ann Purcell and William Newman will contribute their memories of the upheaval as it occurred. The Brady Art Gallery is housed within the Corcoran’s Flagg Building.

Corcoran School of the Arts and Design
“6.13.89” and “A Time for Action” are free and open to the public. “6.13.89” is open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 1 to 6 p.m. “A Time for Action,” courtesy of the Brady Art Gallery operating in Gallery 1 adjacent to the Corcoran’s atrium, will be open Tuesday through Saturday, 1-5 p.m. The Corcoran is located at 500 17th Street NW. Visitors should enter via the main entrance, on 17th Street between New York Avenue NW and E Street NW. For more information visit