Horror of the penis

(About art and the body, not much about language.)

Over on AZBlogX yesterday, I posted a substantial piece on male nudes, reporting on an exhibition of them in Vienna that excited considerable controversy, due to a Pierre et Gilles poster used in advertising the show; the poster showed three young men, naked from the knees on up and  facing the viewer, and the objection was to the public depiction of their penises. (Those penises, plus some others from Pierre et Gille and one in a sculpture by Ilse Haider, are why the posting went on my X Blog rather than this one; like some Austrians, WordPress has a horror of the penis.)

I then went on to look at a deeper objection to penises in art: an objection to *erect* penises. Hard cocks are apparently by definition inflammatory and cannot be displayed with serious artistic intent. There’s a small list of exceptions to this generalization: in particular, folk art, comic and fantasy art, and (overlapping with these categories) art showing erect penises *detached* from a body (here we sing King Missile’s 1992 song “Detachable Penis”). The remaining examples seem subject to constant pressure to re-label them as pornography rather than serious art.

In cataloguing art books in my library, I’ve simply abandoned most category discriminations, beyond setting aside cartooning and illustration from other drawing, painting, and photography. (The fluid lines between cartooning, illustration, captioning, sloganeering, and “art proper” are a repeated topic on this blog; the sociology of the art world has a lot to do with how these and related categorizations are made.) The overarching category in my inventory is the disjunctive

male art [meaning art that focuses on the male body] / queer art / homosexuality in art

and I make no attempt to separate “porn” from “high art”.

So in the subcategory of “historical and other surveys” we get:

Braham, Phil.  2000.  Exposed: A celebration of the male nude from 90 of the world’s greatest photographers.  NY: Thunder’s Mouth Press.

Chapman, David. 1989.  Adonis: The male physique pin-up, 1870-1940.  Swaffham: Aubrey Walter.

Cooper, Emmanuel.  1988.  Male bodies: A photographic history of the nude.  Munich: Prestel.

– 1994.  The sexual perspective: Homosexuality and art in the last 100 years in the West.  2nd ed.  London: Routledge.

– 1995.  Fully exposed: The male nude in photography.  2nd ed.  London: Routledge.

Ellenzweig, Allen.  1992.  The homoerotic photograph.  NY: Columbia Univ. Press.

Fernandez, Dominique.  2002.  A hidden love: Art and homosexuality.  Munich: Prestel.

Leddick, David.  1997.  Naked men: Pioneering male nudes 1935-1955.  NY: Rizzoli.

– 1998.  The male nude.  Köln: Taschen.

– 2000.  Naked men too: Liberating the male nude 1950-2000.  NY: Rizzoli.

– 2001.  Male nude now: New visions for the 21st century.  NY: Rizzoli.

Lucie-Smith, Edward.  1998.  Adam: The male figure in art.  NY: Rizzoli.

Massengill. Reed.  2009.  Uncovered: Rare vintage male nudes.  NY: Rizzoli.

Néret, Gilles.  2004.  Homo art. Köln: Taschen.

Reed, Christopher.  2011.  Art and homosexuality: A history of ideas.  OUP.

Summers, Claude J. (ed.).  2004.  The queer encyclopedia of the visual arts.  San Francisco CA: Cleis Press.

Waugh, Thomas.  1996.  Hard to imagine: Gay male eroticism in photography and film from their beginnings to Stonewall.  NY: Columbia Univ. Press.

– 2002.  Out/Lines: Underground gay graphics from before Stonewall.  Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press.

–  [with Willie Walker] 2004.  Lust unearthed: Vintage gay graphics from the DuBek Collection.  Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press

Weinberg, Jonathan.  2004.  Male desire: The homoerotic in American Art.  NY: Harry N. Abrams.

And in the subcategory “specific artists”, we have the male photographers I’ve looked at on AZBlogX (Robert Emery Smith, Jack Pierson, Rick Day, Giovanni, Fred Goudon, Mariano Vivanco, Stanley Stellar, Mel Roberts, Sam Carson, Richard de Chazal, Howard Roffman, Marc Bessange), plus others I haven’t yet gotten to, and also these other artists:

Esten, John.  1999.  John Singer Sargent: The male nudes.  NY: Universe.

– 2002.  Thomas Eakins: The absolute man.  NY: Universe,

Mapplethorpe, Robert.  1985.  Robert Mapplethorpe: Certain people.  Pasadena CA: Twelvetrees Press.

Pierre et Gilles.  2003.  Pierre et Gilles.   Köln: Benedikt Taschen,

Spring, Justin.  2002.  Paul Cadmus: The male nudes.  NY: Universe.

In a special category are two volumes specifically devoted to the adoration of the penis (the very opposite attitude to the one that makes penises so problematic in “serious art”; these volumes focus on them and elevate them as an artistic theme, rather than skirting around them and treating them as a mere concomitant of depicting the male body):

Hanson, Dian (ed.). 2008. The big penis book. Köln: Taschen.

Richards, Robert W. 2010. Jewels: Adoration of the penis. Berlin: Bruno Gmünder.

The first of these merited a Language Log posting back in 2007 (here), because its title is a cute bit of language play: the book in question is a big (really gigantic) book about penises, and also a book about big penises. The second book I don’t seem to have gotten around to posting about. But of course both books feature plenty of erect penises: after all, if you’re celebrating penises, hard ones are especially fine.


3 Responses to “Horror of the penis”

  1. X or not? | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] paintings (and there are a huge number of these) demonstrate the absurdity of the X line and the horror of the penis on which it’s based (the idea seems to be that representations of penises are intrinsically […]

  2. Male nudes | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] I posted in January on the Leopold Museum’s exhibition — first on AZBlogX (in “Dick aversion”, with plenty of illustrations), then on this blog (in “Horror of the penis”). […]

  3. Adam Says:

    I find your blog fascinating and also rare. The avoidance of the penis in art (especially large ones) is intriguing. It seems if a large or erect penis is the subject in a piece of art, it is often used for being provacative or controversial.
    The other commonality is that the penis art is often labeled “homoerotic”. For some reason that label is rarely applied to the femal nude.
    The fear that surrounds the penis and it’s need to be hidden from the public eye is mind boggling after all of this time. I am a heterosexual male but I find the penis to be a fascinating object. I am even more fascinated by images of large ones and the effect they have on people.
    I started taking self portraits and focusing on art over sexual stimulation in an attempt to see if the images would/could be viewed as art and not pornography. In the end, I guess, that remains up to the individual.
    If you have any interest in viewing my work, you can view it at http://www.artofthepenis.tumblr.com

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