6.13.89: The Cancelling of the Mapplethorpe Exhibition

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

Opening night party on June 13, 2019, from 6 – 8 p.m.
Exhibition open to the public from June 14, 2019, to Oct. 6, 2019
Tuesday–Friday 10 a.m.–6.p.m., Weekends 1 p.m.–6 p.m.

The Atrium Galleries at the Flagg Building
Corcoran School of the Arts & Design
500 17th Street, NW

Washington, DC 20001




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 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 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.

6.13.89 Exhibition Team Curators


Maddy Henkin is an art historian and curator. She earned her Master’s in Art History in 2019 from the George Washington University, where she was awarded an Ebling Endowment Graduate Art History Fellowship and the Melvin Lader Memorial Prize for outstanding work by a first-year Art History MA student. Prior to beginning her graduate studies, she managed the New York City location of the Eric Firestone Gallery and helped to organize exhibitions including Miriam Schapiro: The California Years and Henry Chalfant: 1980. Maddy has held curatorial internships at the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, where she also worked as a Curatorial Project Researcher for Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection. While earning her MA, she curated Extra at GW's Gallery 102 and presented scholarships at the Feminist Art History Conference and the NEXT Symposium. Maddy holds a BA from Barnard College and will pursue her PhD in Art History at the University of Southern California beginning in Fall 2019.

Sanjit Sethi is currently the Director of the Corcoran School of the Arts & Design at the George Washington University. Born in Rochester, New York, Sethi has taught at numerous academic institutions, including the Memphis College of Art; the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology; and the California College of the Arts. His work deals with issues of nomadism, identity, the residue of labor, and memory. Sanjit has been Executive Director of the Santa Fe Art Institute (SFAI) and previous to that was Director of the Center for Art and Public Life and Barclay Simpson Professor/Chair of Community Arts at the California College of the Arts.


Project Manager

Rina Alfonso Osawa, M.A. Exhibition Design ‘13, is an exhibition and graphic designer who has worked on projects such as The First Ladies at the National Museum of American History and the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN. She currently runs and owns Studio Aorta, a creative studio based in the Washington, DC, metro area whose clients include the National Building Museum, the National Museum of American History, and the Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition Service. Rina established Studio Aorta with a desire to design exhibitions about art and history, with a focus on relevant contemporary issues, including social justice narratives. She believes that content is enhanced by artful design and that even simple interpretive experiences can make a lasting impact. Her exhibitions allow visitors a moment to reflect on their place in certain narratives and give them an opportunity to think about how they can take action on issues that matter to them. Previous to attending the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design, Rina attended Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Culture, with a Major in Art History.

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