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Penis Art Exhibit Raises Eyebrows

7:39 AM, Sep 14, 2011   |    comments
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(Des Moines Register) -- The University of Iowa is posting warning signs at an art gallery to alert the public about a controversial exhibit.

A collection of decorated plaster castings of a late pornography star's penis is on display in the U of I's Studio Arts Building. The exhibit is the work of master of fine arts student Emily Moran Barwick, 27.

More than two dozen life-size castings are on display through Sunday in an exhibit titled the "John Holmes Prick Parade.".

"This is a matter of artistic expression, and the proper controls are in place to alert visitors of what they may encounter," U of I spokesman Tom Moore said.

Moore said the university has guidelines about what is deemed tasteful and appropriate for its art students to produce, and this project falls within those guidelines. "There is no attempt to censor an artist as long as they meet those guidelines," he said.

Barwick described her project as a take on the university's "Herky on Parade" celebration. That event featured 75 "Herky the Hawk" statues displayed around Iowa City in 2004 as part of a Kinnick Stadium anniversary celebration.

Barwick said the exhibit demonstrates how easily someone's body part can become "a commodity item."

She said she first encountered a replica of the casting while working at a novelty store in her hometown in Florida.

"It made me (think about) body ownership and who owns the body and who is licensed to the body," she said. "It's disturbing that one's own body part can be a commodity."

To make her project more collaborative, Barwick sent out plaster castings of a mold she ordered online to volunteers as far away as Miami who wanted to contribute to the project. Participants were invited to decorate the castings as they chose and send them back to Barwick to add to her collection.

Barwick said each sculpture has a different theme that communicates the message of the body as a product.

Benjamin Chait, owner of Chait Galleries Downtown in Iowa City, said putting the human form on display is nothing new.

"I would invite you to come into our gallery and look at our penis art. We have quite a bit of it, and we don't find it offensive," he said. "It's all in the context in which it's offered."

Isabel Barbuzza, associate professor of sculpture in the School of Art and Art History, and the school's director, John Beldon Scott, could not be reached for comment.

Barwick said she has received indirect negative feedback, but she didn't "do the show in order to upset people."

WRITTEN BY Stephanie Wise

Des Moines Register

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