Photo used by permission of the Estate of Robert Mapplethorpe

In case you missed it the first time around, the Santa Monica Museum of Art is restaging Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment, the controversial photography exhibition organized in 1988 (the year prior to the artist’s death) by Philadelphia’s Institute of Contemporary Art. Targeted by the religious right’s culture warriors, the show became the subject of an unprecedented congressional protest resulting in its cancellation at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. When it opened at Cincinatti’s Contemporary Arts Center in 1990, authorities shut it down and arrested CAC director Dennis Barrie on obscenity charges. The Perfect Moment became a First Amendment rallying point and central to two major movements in ’90s art — inspiring action and academic discourse on issues of racism and homophobia in the institutional art world and in government, and, more surprisingly, launching the whole “Beauty” bandwagon by inspiring Dave Hickey’s 1993 book The Invisible Dragon. Viewers untitillated by interracial gay sex or art history will find an exhibit of elegant, consummately crafted studio photographs well worth a second (or first) look. SMMoA, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica; (310) 586-6488. Through June 10.

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