First Night: Art suffers under weight of political message: 'Sex Crimes' exhibition: The Edge gallery, London

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THERE was a touch of nostalgia about this. Exhibits not being hung until minutes before the show opened; the gallery itself well hidden underneath an alternative bookshop in King's Cross.

It harked back to the days of censorship and police raids. And, as many of the works on show were in breach of the Obscene Publications Act, censorship and police raids remain a distinct possibility before the exhibition's three-week run is up.

The purpose of this sado-masochism show, the organisers say, is to highlight claims of increased police interference with sexual behaviour of consenting adults and raids on gay clubs and parties.

Last month police arrested 38 men during an SM party in Barnsley, and the Law Lords recently upheld a judgment in which 16 men, consenting adults indulging in sado- masochistic activities, were convicted of actual bodily harm and unlawful wounding.

But art must stand or fall on its own merits rather than its underlying political message; and art critics last night would have seen three photographs by Della Grace, two of ladies in chains and little else, one of a phallus on a piece of drainage. 'It is a manicured image,' said the exhibition co-ordinator Hugh Mitchell, slipping easily into the meaningless metaphor of the true modern art expert.

A photograph by Gordon Rainsford was not being hung until the last moment as it risked breaching a particular technicality in the law.' It is the angle of the dangle,' said another organiser, slightly less obscurely. One passed on.

Holding food and drink and gliding between the exhibits can be a difficult manoeuvre at any private view. In the sculpture gallery, featuring Luke Morgan's A Whipping Stallion and Manacle Stool, it was downright dangerous, giving suffering in the name of art a whole new meaning.

Most of the hundred or so art lovers in the crowded gallery last night were in their civvies - though Louise in spun copper bodice and Cheryl in leather G-string appeared to have dressed specially for the occasion.

The artist Abi Rapley said she found the show a bit tame: 'I've fooled around with sado-masochism as part of the club culture, so I feel I've seen it all before.' Most disturbing of all was the choice of refreshments: plates of jelly babies. It seemed inappropriately innocent.

(Photograph omitted)