||It is ironic that the prosecution and Danto positioned themselves symmetrically
in opposition to the maligned museum professional. Yet for both, Mapplethorpe's
works must be deviant—for the prosecution to legitimate their removal,
and for Danto to legitimate "our obligations. . . to our fellow citizens,"
which presumably takes place in the abstract space of the museum. For the
prosecution, the museum professional was the representative of high art
and the permissive environment, not only of the museum itself but of the
public-liberal domain at large. Art could survive "as art" only once it
had been taken out of the artifice of the museum and put into a supposedly
clean world of normalcy. Mapplethorpe's works, so they hoped, would fail
this simple test, and their "aesthetic" nature would become apparent. The
museum was a Trojan horse that cloaked the enemy from view, but unlike
the Trojans, who failed to recognize the illusion, the Cincinnati moralists
claimed to see through the trick and demanded that the truth be revealed.
Danto, like his conservative opponents, wanted the experience to run true as well, but in the opposition debate he had to commit himself to the museum. For Mapplethorpe's deviancy to be revealed, the images had not to be removed from the museum, but affixed to its walls as a monument to our enlightenment. One would have to walk past the "disinterestedness" of the museum directors, who were not permissive and cunning, but jaded and alienated. Their lack of passion was just as dangerous to the important relationship between art and democracy as the anti- aesthetic of the arch-conservatives.
In the process of defending Mapplethorpe, however, Danto failed not only to understand how much the museum conditioned and falsified his own supposedly "authentic" experience, but failed to touch on the aesthetic nature of life itself, one of the most important themes of Mapplethorpe's photography that passed him by in his idealistic (and I would say falsely innocent) search for a non-aesthetic response to art. If the prosecution wanted to reveal and erase the illusion between art and reality so as to de-aestheticize Mapplethorpe, Danto demanded that we experience the works first hand, in a supposedly non-alienated museum environment. But in Danto's attempt to strike at the immediacy of art, the problematic of distance asserts itself as in a cruel hoax. Because the values are "not ours," he implied that Mapplethorpe's photographs should be left in the museum, for that is where we best remember our "obligations . . . to our fellow citizens." Thus in experiencing Mapplethorpe profoundly, we do so at a price, for the museum becomes a space of hypocrisy, our safety net that lets us be close to, but not be one of, "them." Danto wanted to preserve the illusion of the importance of art without realizing that the problem of artifice in Mapplethorpe's work is not just his, but ours as well.