The Dick Pic Show
Joanna Beray, Brad Bernhardt, Don Edler, Michael Genovese, Aimee Goguen, Patrick Hoelck,
Shaun Johnson, Kysa Johnson, Casey Kaufmann, David Kirshoff, Alexander Kroll, Mike Kuchar, Alice Lang,
Alexandra Leon & Beau Rice, Candystore O. McCritter, Stephen Neidich, Tin Nguyen,
Kenton Parker, Paul Pescador, Jalal Poehlman, Yuri Psinakis, Melanie Pullen, Kale Roberts,
Brian Robertson, Kenny Scharf, Andrew Schoultz, Max Schwartz, Zak Smith, David Tamargo,
Jamaal Tolbert, Uncannysfvalley, Sarah Ann Weber, Austyn Weiner, Julie Weitz, and Gray Wielebinski
Curated by Katie Bode and Kenton Parker
June 3 - July 22, 2017 | Opening: Saturday June 3rd, 5-8pm
Curated Loo | Chimento Contemporary | 622 South Anderson Street
I wanted to represent something I loved, I obviously loved representing a little penis.
As an epithet of penis, a dick is more familiar, more personal. When referring to a ‘dick pic’ there is the colloquial tendency to shorten the word picture to the diminutive ‘pic’. Perhaps all this textual soft-pedaling hopes to smooth over what can be a brazen and aggressive act of digital exhibitionism. Of course, dick pics are inherently intimate as well, a vulnerable moment that is still loaded with symbolism and subtext. Phalluses have been springing up in visual culture for millennia, as odes to patriarchal power; erotic icons; thrusting towering symbols of masculinity. The artists in this exhibition each provide their own perspective of what a dick pic can represent. After all, although a penis is a symbol of gender, it is also an idea, open to interpretation and redefinition as many times and ways possible.
The earliest known symbolic representation of male genitalia is about 28,000 years old, a stone dildo speculated to be used as a sex aid because of its lifelike proportions. InAncient Greece phallic art was the domain of Dionysus, god of wine but also of fertility; large phallic sculptures played an important role in festivities celebrating the deity. However, it was the Ancient Romans that really outdid themselves with penii representation, with many homes containing penis sculptures or even wind chimes, phallic graffiti scrawled prolifically in public spaces, and tiny dicks often worn as jewelry. These representations are tokens of fertility, but also symbolic of a culture far more accepting of sex – although only in the purview of upper-class males.
In modern times there was Brancusi’s controversial Princess X (1916), a purported portrait of Marie Bonaparte (great grandniece of Napoleon) who also happened to have a mild obsession with vaginal orgasms. When the Salon des Indépendants removed the sculpture from display for what they called “obscene content,” Brancusi argued that the work was, in fact, a stylized bust of his subject, curving gracefully to gaze upon herself, her ample bosom comprising the shapely forms detractors insisted must be testicles.
Then of course, there is the dick pic that broke the art world: Lynda Benglis’ art-as-advertisement in the November 1974 issue of Artforum. Part of a pissing contest between Benglis and the artist Robert Morris to see who could produce the most outrageous ad, Benglis’ image features the artist herself nude and glistening, thrusting an oversized dildo out of her vagina for all the art world to see. The publication of this image caused two Artforum editors–Rosalind Krauss and Annette Michelsonto–to quit in protest. Interestingly, those same editors were unbothered by both Morris’ contribution the previous month, an ad featuring himself decked out as a full blown Nazi-Chic beefcake (photographed by none other than Rosalind Kraus herself!) as well as the far less confrontational image of a nude Benglis glancing coyly over her shoulder that was included in the review of the exhibition for which the above-mentioned advertisement was announcing. This single dick pic managed to call to reckoning both the critical and commercial ideals of the most important art publication in the world, but also the fraught, frigid nature of mainstream second wave feminism, distrustful of assertive sexuality and seriously lacking in supportive girl-power.
By the 1980s, a reactionary culture around the representation of sexuality still ruled supreme with Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographic exploration of homosexuality sparking one of the biggest dustups of the Reagan Era Culture Wars. Led by Senator Jesse Helms, Republican lawmakers used this ‘indecent’ art as an excuse to call for the defunding of the National Endowment for the Arts, forever altering the dynamics of non-profit arts funding in the United States. It’s informative to take a look at these works 30 years later, when a figure like Mapplethorpe is anything but controversial in today’s art world, and is even lauded at large-scale public-minded institutions such as LACMA. It’s tempting to declare these culture wars over, won by the good guys who bet on artistic freedom, with great gains not only in the cloistered art world but also the country at large. Of course the normalization of homosexuality and the constitutional right to same-sex marriage are balanced by a new wave of reactionary, exclusionary politics sweeping the West.
Nonetheless, current cultural attitudes towards sexuality and gender are broadening, however haltingly, and artists continue to provide new ways of seeing, thinking about and understanding these powerfully loaded concepts. Gender norms and the language that gives them contour continue to be questioned and redefined. The patriarchal ideal of the all powerful phallus is ripe to be reimagined, and the slippery digital space of 1s and 0s provides fertile incubation for new possibilities. The modern ubiquity of smartphones with built in cameras creates the possibility for visual intimacy in ways that were previously unimaginable while the double edged sword of anonymity provides cover for radical experimentation as well as a haven for the hate-filled vitriol of trolls. In this world of heady digital possibilities and still fraught political realities, what happens when a phallus is also a portrait? What occurs when the male gaze is turned upon itself? Or subverted? When is a dick more than just a pic?