6.13.89 The Cancelling of the Mapplethorpe Exhibition

6.13.89: The Cancelling of the Mapplethorpe Exhibition will explore the highly politicized and publicized cancellation of the 1989 exhibition Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment. On June 13, 1989, the Corcoran Gallery of Art bowed to significant political pressure and canceled the retrospective 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 Robert Mapplethorpe, known for his bold depictions of the human form. 6.13.89: The Cancelling of the Mapplethorpe Exhibition will present viewers with an unvarnished look at the Corcoran’s decision to cancel the show, presenting archival materials never before seen by the public and sourced from the Corcoran Archives at George Washington University’s Gelman Library.

The impact of the show’s closure reverberated throughout Washington and the museum community nationwide, and it remains a cautionary tale for institutions. The controversy has long sparked discussions on the role of artistic freedom and the dangers of censorship of museums. 6.13.89: The Cancelling of the Mapplethorpe Exhibition will shed light on what happened behind the scenes at the Corcoran.

Organized by Sanjit Sethi, director of GW’s Corcoran School of the Arts & Design, and independent curator Danielle O’Steen, and presented in partnership with GW’s Gelman Library, 6.13.89: The Cancelling of the Mapplethorpe Exhibition will show select historic documents from the Corcoran Archives, including internal memos, correspondence, board-meeting minutes and call logs, as well as related ephemera on subsequent protests and events in the Washington area. In displaying these documents and the intimate details they reveal, the exhibition will closely examine the cancellation of Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment and provide an opportunity to revisit this important and fraught history.

6.13.89: The Cancelling of the Mapplethorpe Exhibition will be accompanied by dynamic public programming, including a symposium on arts and censorship in the U.S. and internationally, to contextualize the exhibition and reflect on the long-term effects of this show’s closing on the museum community, the Corcoran, and federal funding of the arts.