IOWA CITY, IA—We may never know whether 27-year-old M.F.A. sculpture student Emily Moran Barwick took inspiration for her latest work from Claude Monet’s Haystacks series of Impressionist paintings, but even if she did not one would be forgiven for making at least a thin connection between the two.
The great French artist used mundane images of haystacks painted during diffrerent times of the year to explore the nuances of perception. Barwick's “The John Holmes Prick Parade"—running now at the University of Iowa’s Eve Drewelowe Gallery—features two dozen life-sized decorated plaster castings of the infamous porn star’s penis to explore society's perception and use of the human body.
According to an article in the Press-Citizen, “Each sculpture has a different theme and unique name, and each attempts to demonstrate the message of the body as a product.”
Actually, an earlier Iowa City art project and not Monet provided the direct motivation for the exhibit.
“Barwick said the exhibit is a take on the ‘Herky on Parade’ public art project, which took place in Iowa City in 2004,” the paper reported. “UI and several local organizations created the public art project as a take-off on Chicago's successful ‘Cows on Parade.’ Artists painted and decorated 75 blank statues of Herky, which were placed around town and later sold as a fundraiser.” Herky the Hawk is the athletics mascot of the University of Iowa Hawkeyes.
John C. Holmes, who died in 1988 due to complications from AIDS, was born in Ashville, Ohio, but there’s no indication he ever visited the University of Iowa. He has now, though, or rather, a part of him has, and it is precisely the commodification of his most famous appendage that Barwick, who first saw a plaster cast of Holmes’ cock while working at a novelty store in Florida, wants to explore in the Prick Parade.
"It was a cast directly from his body, and it seemed an absurd thing to replicate someone's body part," she told the paper. "It's interesting to me that people potentially are having posthumous sex with this. It made me [think about] body ownership and who owns the body and who is licensed to the body."
Needless to say, the subject of who owns (and licenses) the images of body parts is also of interest to members of the adult entertainment industry, many of whom should probably give the issue as much thought as is Barwick, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish.
We just think it’s cool that in the heartland of America, among the cornfields of Iowa, a porn star’s cock is the theme of an art exhibit, and no one has closed down the exhibit. According to IU spokesperson, Tom Moore, the exhibit does not violate UI guidelines.
"There is no attempt to censor an artist as long as they meet those guidelines," he said, adding that signs have been posted to warn visitors that the subject matter.
“The John Holmes Prick Parade” runs through Sept. 18.