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'Prick Parade:' Attention ploy or artistic expression?

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | SEPTEMBER 16, 2011 7:20 AM

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Attention ploy

The phallic member has been a part of the sensuous mystery that surrounds art since its birth. I empathize with the artist's plight of postmodernist consumerism in sexuality: Steps need to be taken to examine the treatment of sexuality as a product in our culture. The subject needs to be exposed and thoughtfully debated in order to revolutionize the perception of sexuality in our capitalistic society.

But "Pricks on Parade" is a step backwards in that revolution and seems nothing more than a cry for publicity from an amateur M.F.A. student.

Emily Moran Barwick's two-dozen sculptures, formally called The John Holmes Prick Parade, are on display at the Studio Arts Building and claim to be an examination of the body as a product in modern society.
There are too many things that don't add up, that don't seem like a thought-out perspective of the penis as a consumer product.

First off, to tie the name of the exhibition to Iowa City's 2004 public art project"Herky on Parade" is contradictory. The goal of the "Herky" project was to bring a city together and highlight both its artistic and athletics pride — not to show Herky as a product but as a symbol of the unique fusion that exists in Iowa City. Barwick's exhibit is all about the penis as a product, not as a symbol of individualistic expression. To piggyback on the name of a mainstream fad in this fashion cannot be anything more than a plug for attention from the community, namely the local media.

The question of body ownership is the main focus of the exhibit: Who owns the body? Should the body be sold like a product? The implication of the exhibition is that anyone can buy and sell replications of the body, or the body itself, at a fitting price. This point is blurred when you find out that the collaboration inside the project was limited to volunteers being given casts of the original penis. There is no capitalism there. The penis was not a product sold to the public to do what they choose with it, it was given to a select few with a specific focus in mind.

The sensation here is not that Barwick made her point with a penis, it is that fact that she exploited the taboo nature of the male body part to bring hype and aim the spotlight directly on her gallery. And it worked.

But at the end of the day, the true nature of the exhibition can be found in its name: It's just a few "Pricks" on parade.

— Benjamin Evans

Artistic expression

"Art" is defined by the Encyclopedia Britannica as "a visual object or experience consciously created through an expression of skill or imagination."

For those who say that the controversial John Holmes Prick Parade art exhibit created by UI student Emily Moran Barwick is not art, something is wrong with their interpretational skills.

The exhibit is made of numerous plaster castings of porn star John Holmes's penis, with each having a distinct feature that tells a story or a message. This obviously fits the first criterion of it being a "visual object or experience," though taken to an extreme.

Did the physical creation of the exhibit require some amount of "experience" and "skill or imagination"? It most likely did. A quick look at Barwick's personal blog gives a pretty good indication that she is a hard worker and a talented artist, considering her many unique projects. Surely, most people cannot replicate her results.

Therefore the debate lies only in whether it is truly "art" in the sense that there is a message behind the manifest content and the appropriateness when it comes to exposure to minors or those who easily feel offended.

In her own words, Barwick feels that the exhibit is art, saying "the idea that sex sells" is one that influenced her to start the project. "The fact that this novelty store in Florida had the rights to this man's body" and effectively made it a commodity fascinated her, and it became her muse for the "Prick Parade, which took things one step further." She made it very clear that she did not create this project to gain attention to her work and that she has been a part of "far more provocative projects" that haven't gotten near the amount of attention that this one has garnered. Despite this range of shock values, she also feels that "no one should be subjected [to her artwork] if they don't want to be."

"People have a right to their opinion," she said in regard to her critics. "I've gotten a lot of hate mail, but it doesn't matter."

That sounds like art to me.

— Joe Schueller


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