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Eyedrum gets a hard-on for Hardware: The Penis Show

Contemporary discourse in art has placed a great deal of emphasis on upending the objectification of the female body and reversing "the gaze." But an exhibition that persistently flouts and flaunts the phallus? Yes, and you can watch. Cecelia Kane, along with more than 20 other past and present Atlanta artists, organized Hardware: The Penis Show at Eyedrum Art and Music Gallery.

Opening night for a fetishistic exhibition is bound to be a blow out. And so it was. Hardware exposed the crowd to two floors of penises and a series of one-night performances. Peppering their music with sex talk, Glory Hole and the Phabulous Phallic Phabulons played music honoring the phallus. Son of C.O.D. ranted and raved about the penis, offering the audience chances to beat on a phallic piñata. Stella Zine read from a personal diary describing her dual sexual personae. Computer composer Jaz1 played an "orgasmic" sound mix in the lounge zone and curator Cecilia Kane brought out her "Big Dick," a spoken word fairy tale.

The question is, does Atlanta's current sensation show, well, stand up after the first climax? Fortunately, the verdict is in favor of the exploited penis, though the concept deflates more than once. At the entrance, Kristin Gorell's digital collages of male odalisques don't reveal much on the topic. Neither do Susan Cipcic's obvious historic references to towers, lighthouses, ancient weapons, armor, cannons and rockets downstairs. On the other hand, Jill Pope's painting, "My Identity Would Be Fixed If I Were A Man," gets a rise out of the phallus. She depicts our culture as an imaginary seascape where penises bob about like brightly colored buoys in blue ocean swells.

"Compassionate Conservative" by Larry Jens Anderson is just as vivid. For years now, grownup Anderson has revisited childhood guilt about his sexuality and gender orientation. Against a backdrop of creamy white curtains and a starry half-dome sits a tiny white church on a pedestal. Inside, on the church floor, there's a video image of a penis being rhythmically stroked. If that's absolution, then what?

Some of the artists go really hard on the guys and their lowly members. The Amazing Lizardos air a tiring "Emasculation Kit" video that embarrasses a live penis by turning it into a show girl with a pink feathered headdress. In his discomfiting butcher shop installation, Stan Woodard suggests chopping off and pulverizing the offender to make sausages.

Others make the male object a personal obsession. Kate Kretz borrows her aesthetic from folk art, carving out "(Some) Penises I have Known." Resembling a row of Russian Stacking Dolls in their variable height and girth, each is shaped from memory. The smallest belongs to the man labeled "Harvard." Toni Hoover does her version of notches on a gun belt. Two dozen little gold penis trophies with names engraved (Brian, Shane, Pete, Jeff #3, Deke, and so on) recall her conquests.

It seems the penis is up for endless puns and punishment. King Thackston's beautifully rendered drawing of "Phone Sex" replaces receiver with an erect phallus. Constance Thalken laments her neutered dog with a photo portrait labeled "Denied." M.B. Andrews offers the "rubbing" of a monolithic 8-foot penis on a great sheet of Mylar. Michael Murrell shows his ubiquitous "Blue Dick" and "Buzz," a newer sculpture, quite lovely, that has satin smooth wood penises sprouting like zucchini from an iron vine.

The proverbial slew of confessions and double entendres among the artists and their collaborators never stops. Julie Stewart collected "Teste-Moan-ials." Suspended from the ceiling on sheets of paper and Plexiglas, they recount the old saws, "I get excited seeing it spring to life ... the organ at hand ... As a child, I remember wanting one," and so on.

The 18th century novelist Laurence Sterne once wrote, "Without too much, we will never have enough." Underexposure is definitely not the problem with Hardware.

Hardware: The Penis Show continues through June 14 at Eyedrum Art and Music Gallery, 253 Trinity Ave. Thurs. 3-7 p.m., Fri. and Sat. 1-5 p.m., by appointment and evenings during music and performance events. 404-522-0655.

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