"The Best Art In The World"
“D I C K S”
October 26—December 4, 2016
60 East 4th Street
New York NY 10002
ELIZABETH BERDANN, CYNTHIA PLASTER CASTER, JESSE CHAPMAN, AURA ROSENBERG, MIRA SCHOR, AUREL SCHMIDT, BETTY TOMPKINS, NICOLE WITTENBERG
By INGRID DINTER, NOV. 2016
In a charming jewel box storefront gallery on East 4th Street, called Fortnight Institute, a passerby these days might encounter an exhibition of what appears as an odd cabinet of curiosities: paintings and such, of male genitalia. The exhibition is affectionately (never mind all the various associations) titled “Dicks”.
The paintings and drawings on view were created by eight artists, mostly women (Jesse Chapman is the lone male). Spanning different generations and decades of production the works address different, though somewhat similar, renderings of the—to reduce it to it’s most basic function—male reproductive organ - but oh, it is so much more than that!
In this exhibition the penis seems to be so often mysteriously disembodied. To begin with, we see Betty Tompkins acid green canvas of 2016—on the right, from the street, through the window—with a horizontal penis thrusting from the right edge of the painting—unattached, it points the way. In Betty’s case, pointing us into the room, like that index finger, to see what else is going on.
Betty tells a story—that John Cheim (of Cheim and Read gallery) once said, in her presence, that the two things which guarantee that a painting won’t sell is the color green and a penis. Naturally, Betty couldn’t wait to get back to her studio to paint just that. Spread the love.
Across from Betty are two paintings, from 1992-93, by Mira Schor and there is a more complex narrative happening in Schor's work. In this case, the penis is also pointing from right to left, a representation of the ancient association with patriarchal power, male dominance and control of women (female sexuality—yikes, that uncontrollable thing—how can I be sure who my offspring is?), from God’s penis to Mary’s ear—what better than an Immaculate Conception to issue forth our Messiah.
In the painting on the left, the penis encounters the female presence in the form of a red semi-colon, symbolizing language—with the penis looking a lot like it is about to give it a kiss. On the right is “Grey Snake”, depicting a penis heading out as an extension of said ear, only to do a U-turn and double back on itself—let us reflect.
Elizabeth Berdann presents us with that (perceived) male dilemma: “Good, Better, Best”, from 1988; regular, larger, and biggest—eternal competition, comparison, measure of worth. Strong, stronger, strongest. Not just in the arena of procreation, but also to protect and defend. In this particular case, our dear friend looks sad, but maybe he is just at rest, awaiting his next assignation.
Aurel Schmidt lovingly renders, in a detailed drawing “Sometimes, Always” (2016), a proud erect penis, surging vertically forth like a spore splashing mushroom. Reaching for the sky, the heights, the promised bliss—a celebration of heated desire. The paper is peppered with cum—presumably from a cooperative friend.
Cynthia Plaster Caster is a name that has been popping up now and then since forever. After all the hearsay, here is an example of an actual rock star penis: Jimi Hendrix. Done for real, how she was able to get this to happen, I can not imagine. Jimi is enshrined on a pedestal, with a protective plexiglass surround, we can admire his natural endowment at eye level - you go, Jimi…!
Jesse Chapman shows us a painting from 2012. For some reason every time I look at this I think I am looking at a sheep, a ram. Something Aries is going on here, but at rest. And quite tucked away in it’s uncircumcised fold, incommunicado. The main color is rusty, and the surrounding elements suggest a shaggy dog, not quite open for business. Probably friendly, but come back later.
Aura Rosenberg brings a whole wheelbarrow load of penises for our perusal, tucked into rocks. They look like body parts set for display into some other material. Disembodied, again. Are these the penises all those fed up others chopped off and tossed into the sea, only to wash back up on shore, locked in the embrace of some rock?
Aura told us a story of living upstate and needing to work on something and chose this subject matter—which she made waterproof, and would place in the trout stream where her husband went fishing, these works span from 1989-2016.
Nicole Wittenberg’s whimsical and lightly rendered pink drawing called “Mr. Limpy” 2016, looks like a smudge. Did Mr. Limpy let himself be painted and then pressed to paper, to leave a trace of his presence? Well, it’s oil on canvas, so maybe he sprang from the artist’s head, an idea, a thought, something the cat dragged in - or that lump of ice cream that fell to the floor—lick it up…
Added bonus: historical context. Fabiola Alondra and Jane Harmon, proprietors of Fortnight Institute and organizers of the exhibition, squeeze in some relevant small phallic objects and a little library of erotic supporting material, on to shelves in the back windows.
You can hang out here and soak up the vibe. Contemplate what “Dick” might mean, particularly from a female point of view.
Several of the artists reached out to pornography for their source material, so the depictions are not personal (who needs a model when you can go online.)
This exhibition has the look of a study for a larger, more expansive, exploration of a timely idea. WM
Ingrid Dinter is an independent curator and sometime writer, based in New York City. She was the owner of Dinter Fine Art, a gallery in Chelsea, from 2004 to 2009. Besides curating 35 exhibitions at the gallery, she also curated “Consider The Oyster” at Graham & Sons (2010) and “Summer Salt” at The Proposition (2011), as well as an ongoing artists film program called “Bohemian Nights”, shown at various venues including the Gershwin Hotel (New York City), The Emerald Tablet (San Francisco), and at IMC LAB (New York).
view all articles from this author