Manhood up against the wall

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The Independent Culture
ARE THESE the West's most beautiful penises? Sara Davidmann decided it was high time that Western art started using men, and not just women, as objects of beauty and desire.

Her Wall of Wangers, Part I of All That Glitters - 88 life-casts from more than 50 males - is an attempt to turn the tables by putting male bodies in the voyeuristic context usually reserved for females.

There is nothing at all anti-male about it. She has adorned and decorated the plaster cast "wangers" (it is an inoffensive American word) with brightly coloured fabrics, diamante, tassels, mirrors and metal fragments, glitter and paint, to make them seductive and resplendent.

"The work is intended as a celebration of maleness," she says: "I wanted to present the male form without crudity in such a way that no one could deny that it is beautiful."

Which is all very confusing for those of us brought up to believe that women do not eye up men in the same leering way that men eye up women. Women are after inner strength, not surface appearances, aren't they?

Davidmann is not so sure. Besides beautiful penises, she makes 8ft by 8ft montages of 20 to 30 photographs of naked, fat men on transparent film that she adorns with glittery fabrics and translucent cellophane. These are no Adonises, she says, but they have "fascinating bodies and wonderfully curved stomachs" that,with the addition of sumptuous trimmings, look "utterly splendid, very, very beautiful". She hopes that people will be transfixed by them - and then start questioning whether only thin can be beautiful.

Take a good look at her penises. Does their beauteous form transcend their rampant sexuality? Perhaps it does. But the average male will be hindered in engaging in Davidmann's conceptual boundary-breaking by the traumatic thought that here is a true-life record of 88 male responses to a female artist advancing on their exposed genitals with a handful of cold, wet plaster. Some are expectantly erect. Others appear to be cowering. "I have to be quick," says Davidmann.

And women's responses? When the Wall of Wangers was shown at the Atrium Gallery in Whiteleys, Bayswater, this year, the management relocated it away from its original spot next to the baby changing-room. Nursing mothers, it was thought, had seen quite enough of that kind of thing for the time being.

Davidmann is 44 and, having taken university degrees in fine art, spent two years apprenticed to the New York minimalist sculptor Carl Andre. His pile of 120 bricks, Equivalent VIII, had caused a public outcry in 1976, after being bought by the Tate Gallery.

She is no minimalist; her penises are highly decorative, but their arrangement in a grid echoes Andre's repetitious formats. Her Part II Wall of Wangers will also have 88 penises, this time more closely ranked and in more noble colours - gold and silver. A sort of rising aristocracy.

Davidmann bought much of the glittery fabric and jewellery in Pakistan and Turkey. Beyond the West, decorating body parts as art is not half so strange as it is here. The anointed, flower-decked lingams of Asia are a prize example. So is the Catholic sacred heart - she saw many versions of that during her travels in South America.

Prices: the Wall of Wangers Part I is for sale as a whole, at around pounds 25,000. Individual, decorated penis casts, which she makes for males known to her range from pounds 150 to pounds 800, depending on decoration (not size).

Sara Davidmann (0181-674 6361). The `Wall of Wangers' will be in the Well Hung gallery's Christmas group show: 39 Ledbury Road, Notting Hill, London W11 (0171-727 1357).

Next week: Annie Cattrell's glass heart and lungs