An art gallery director on trial for displaying Robert Mapplethorpe's work says graphic photographs at the center of the obscenity case are "tough, brutal, sometimes disgusting" - but worthwhile art.

The nation's first obscenity trial of an art gallery and its director was expected to go to the jury late Thursday or early Friday after rebuttal testimony from the prosecution and closing arguments.Dennis Barrie, director of the Contemporary Arts Center, scoffed Wednesday at a prosecutor's suggestion that he and the gallery showed an exhibit of Mapplethorpe's photographs as a publicity stunt.

"This has been a strain on all of us, a strain on me personally and a strain on my family," Barrie testified. "But we were very committed to the principle at stake here."

Barrie and the gallery were charged April 7 with pandering obscenity and using children in nudity-related material, both misdemeanors. The trial is focused on seven of 175 photos in the exhibit, "Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment."

"As difficult as the subject matter may be, you see the ability of the man working through. He was brilliant with a camera," Barrie said.

Mapplethorpe, who was known for pursuing homosexual themes, died of AIDS in March 1989 at age 42.

The exhibit set an attendance record - 81,000 - for an art exhibit in Cincinnati during a seven-week run at the gallery ending in May. The show closes this week in Boston, where 103,000 tickets have been sold.

In January 1989, the Contemporary Art Center's board endorsed Barrie's proposal to schedule an exhibit of Mapplethorpe photos.

In June 1989, three months after Mapplethorpe died, Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., disputed use of National Endowment of the Arts funding for work that might be considered obscene.

The board's legal counsel, Stuart Schloss Jr., testified earlier Wednesday that the board tried to get legal protection before the show. The board filed a lawsuit asking the court to rule whether the exhibit was obscene, but the case was dismissed the day before the public opening of the exhibit in Cincinnati.