A Brief Survey of Blatantly Phallic and Vaginal Art [NSFW]

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“It’s not vulgar, it’s a vulva!” It’s 400 plaster casts of vulvas in one 30-foot-long polyptych, to be exact. Jamie McCartney’s Great Wall of Vagina just won the Erotic Signature international sculpture prize, but the artist insists it is not erotic art. It’s a… ahem… “deeper exposé of human variety.” Don’t fight it. From Louise Bourgeois’s acclaimed, fluid-gendered sculptures to anarchist art-group Voina’s notorious Dick graffiti bombing, visuals of carnal apparatuses go way back and always come back around. Sure, naughty art bits can get banal, but they can be natural and inspired. Here are a few contemporary artists that work some very specific anatomic imagery. Unless you’re a sensitive type, let’s dive on in.

Yes, do giggle at Jamie McCartney’s Great Wall of Vagina. He wants you to. Technically, vaginas they’re not. They’re unique vulva casts of 400 women aged 18 to 76, pre and post labiaplasty, pre and post natal, related and transgendered. The explicit “exposé” heads to UK’s Brighton Festival Fringe in May.

Herman Makkink’s kinetic sculpture Rocking Machine became one of Stanley Kubrick’s most iconic film props when Alex used it as a murder weapon in A Clockwork Orange. With that particularly psychotic display of “ultraviolence,” the sculpture became a bit less playful and a lot more aggressive.

German artist Hans Bellmer’s pubescent sculptures were contra-cultural to Germany’s 20th century cult of the perfect body. Some of Bellmer’s forms were sectioned down to eroticized portions only. What’s more unsettling than a headless, armless, four-legged, two-vulva’ed doll? A doll that’s pretty much all vulva with some ball-like fleshy bits attached.

We could have easily gone with provocative works by Kiki Smith and Cindy Sherman, but it seems that it’s Louise Bourgeois who achieved the perfect balance of fierce and sensual with these forms into her late nineties. Her most suggestive works were always somewhat intersex and twice as naughty.

In 2010, Russia’s activist art collective Voina rose to fame when they painted a giant phallus on a drawbridge in St. Petersburg. It rose, effectively flipping off the Federal Security Service headquarters, which oppressed citizens would refer to as the modern-day KGB. Dick Captured by the FSB remained erect for hours. In 2011, after Voina members were persecuted and jailed for a different anarchistic action, the anti-government piece won the government-approved Innovation prize for best visual work of art. Oh, the irony.

Paul Vella Critien’s public sculpture Colonna Mediterranea in Malta was too provocative for the Pope’s visit ride-by and outraged citizens demanded it to be hidden from the Holy’s view.

Finnish artist Mimosa Pale’s vagicycle taxi is feminism on wheels!

After Courbet is painter John Currin 2008 tribute to Courbet’s 1866 Origin of the World. This updated version is a bit more trimmed and, hence, graphic.

Morten Traavik’s Skin Coloured Machine Gun is a frighting, ambiguous, “human” representation of warfare. It’s also so terribly vulgar, according to Norwegian Armed Forces Museum officials, who hid it in the backroom when the Russian president came in for a visit.

Géza Szöllősi’s skin-crawling Project Flesh comes as close to representing human parts as legally possible. This is probably the least disturbing angle of a specimen from this series of Frankenstein-style taxidermy from various, humanoid animal parts sown together.

Couple artists Tim Noble and Sue Webster’s signature series of tedious piles of trash materials that, when spot lit from a particular angle, cast perfect, impossible shadows on the wall. They didn’t shy away from the opportunity to make a pile of penises look like a two-faced bust. Dirty Narcissus indeed.

Austrian artist VALIE EXPORT’s performance Action Pants: Genital Panic didn’t need any nice sculptures or pretty pictures. Dressed in crotchless pants, she staged a solo intervention at a Munich art-house in 1968, challenging the audience to engage with “a real woman” and not the projected celluloid fantasies. Why make genitals when you’re already armed with some?