New York Newsday
THURSDAY, JUNE 24, 1993 - MANHATTAN - 35 CENTS
All Dressed Up With Nowhere to Go
by David Kocieniewski
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
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.
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."