New York Newsday  

                                            THURSDAY, JUNE 24, 1993 - MANHATTAN - 35 CENTS

            All Dressed Up With Nowhere to Go 
                                                                by David Kocieniewski 
                                                                        Staff Writer 

    What's a discreet way to prevent an artist from displaying an electrified phallic symbol. 
    Pull the plug. 
    Officials at the State Office of Mental Health will ask a Manhattan judge to approve that approach today to end an embarrassing controversy over a planned art exhibit at the Manhattan Psychiatric Center on Wards Island.A 30- by 20 foot sculpture that features several neon-like dancing penises, complete with top hats and canes, is far too suggestive to be installed on the center's grounds, officials say. When illuminated, its size would make it visible and distracting to drivers on the Triborough Bridge, they fear.
    Originally, hospital officials had agreed to show the work by Billie Lawless, entitled Green Lightning, as part of the centers outdoor sculpture show June 26. At the time, state officials apparently didn't realize the figures-which appear to dance when the power is on-might be more appropriate in Times Square.
    Lawless said yesterday that his work is "a symbol of male power and I'm burlesquing it."
    He has filed suit in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, demanding electricity and Justice Ira Gammerman is to hear the case today.
Billie Lawless' Green Lightning dances the night away in          Evelyn Tennenbaum, an assistant attorney general,
Chicago in 1988. The artist is taking a city mental health        said doctors want the exhibit moved from the busy 
agency to court over the display.                              AP Photo        courtyard of the hospital because it could upset the
patients, especially those in the children's' wards. "Seventy-five percent of the children there have been sexually abused, they aren't even allowed to see movies rated higher then G," she said.
    It may be art, but it's certainly not appropriate for display near a children's psychiatric center," added Edward Barbini, a spokesman for the state attorney general's office.
    But Lawless said the doctors and lawyers are just "throwing around a lot of Freudian gobbledy-gook."
    Lawless and his electrical extravaganza have been inspiring confusion, and lawsuits, for years. In 1985, when the $80,000 piece was unveiled at a public square in Buffalo, the city's pugnacious mayor, Jimmy Griffin, called it "filth." He later ordered city snowplow drivers to surround the sculpture with huge mounds of snow.
    The structure was moved to a median abutting the Chicago's Eisenhower Expressway, where it sat uneventfully for four years, and is now in storage in Lawless' Cleveland studio.
    Attorneys are trying to arrange a compromise that would allow Lawless to assemble the sculpture in a remote part of the hospital grounds. But even if he agrees to the new location, Lawless said he still needs access to the power lines.
    "They told me I could bring in my own generator," he said with a laugh. "It would be stripped in an hour and people would be selling the pieces on the street corners."