Sculpture of rape draws gazes and gasps

May 11, 1994|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,Sun Staff Correspondent

Washington -- With ice-cream cone in hand, Christian Green studied the scene in the storefront -- a partially clad woman crawling on a cement-like floor and, hovering above, the likenesses of two nude men hanging by their genitals.

He inched closer to the paned glass and then stepped back again. His eyes followed the rope as it looped over a beam and fell taut where it strung the men up. He spotted the splotches of red paint in the palms of the male figures, the woman rising up, her brassiere hiked above her breasts, her underwear and pantyhose pulled down about an ankle.

Mr. Green's gaze shifted from the woman to the male figures to the rope and back again as the 18-year-old art student contemplated this provocative study of rape.

"A lot of people would be afraid of expressing themselves [on such a sensitive issue], so they'd shy away," he said of the statue's artist. "He didn't shy away."

Not everyone walking along Georgetown's fashionable Wisconsin Avenue has turned as critical an eye on this storefront sculpture as Mr. Christian did yesterday. But the artwork has provoked plenty of comments, from gasps to indignant one-word bursts, since Ed Massey's sculpture appeared in the window of a one-time clothing store last week.

"Good grief," said one casually dressed woman yesterday as she and an older gentleman strolled past the shop at 1525 Wisconsin Ave., neither one stopping for a closer look.

"I think it's necessary," said Anne Schwab as she arrived at her second-story townhouse office, just two doors away from the window sculpture. "It shows the horror of rape. And it was done by a man. I think it's really important."

Ed Massey would display his piece, titled "Morality/Mortality," nowhere else -- not a gallery, not a museum.

"The frequency and undeniable horror of sexual assault dictates that the sculpture be exhibited on a large scale -- boldly, forthrightly, and without apology," the 31-year-old Los Angeles-based artist wrote in an introduction to the piece that is tacked to the door of the storefront.

A sculptor with a degree in sociology, Mr. Massey uses life-size figures to highlight, critique or lambaste the cultural and social phenomena of the day. This is the same artist whose sculpture "Corporate Ladder" -- a lampoon of office politics -- caused a flap in Columbia when it appeared in the lobby of an office building in January 1990.

Another work, "Checkmate," skewered American businesses' futile attempts to compete with the Japanese.

Mr. Massey got the idea for the "Morality/Mortality" piece from conversations with female friends. There are "too many women who fear every day the possibility of attack, who are so concerned with it, and it makes their life so miserable," said the artist in a telephone conversation from his California home.

Five-city exhibit

The sculpture is appearing simultaneously in storefronts in Miami, Chicago, Santa Monica, Washington and New York. "It's really a piece about crime, denouncing the violation of women," said Mr. Massey, a marathon runner with a master's degree in fine arts from Columbia University. "It's my turn to do a project about this, to see if I could generate some discourse."

Passers-by may not be debating Mr. Massey's work on the street, but the customers at the hair salon next door to the storefront certainly have been talking. So have the clerks at the corner market and the State Department employees working in an office above the storefront.

"Everyone interprets it a different way," said Jean Pierre Sarfati, the owner of Jacques Dessange salon. "Two women told me last week [that the sculpture represented] the pain men go through, the remorse of a man after he has done something like that. Everyone has different eyes."

Others have noted the objects strewn about the female figure -- a blouse, a gray suit jacket, one black high heel, and a black purse and maroon briefcase, both unopened -- and remarked on how the woman's attackers appear not to have robbed her. Nearly every female customer has assumed the artist is a woman, Mr. Sarfati said.

"It's mind-boggling," said photographer Shelley Langston, as her eyes focused on the hanging figures. "Is this the raped person?"

"From a man's point of view, it's a little rough," said her companion, George deVincent, as the two walked down Wisconsin Avenue.

"That's what they should have done to [John Wayne] Bobbitt," added Ms. Langston, referring to the Northern Virginia man whose penis was cut off by his wife after she claimed he had raped her.

Unlike many shoppers who casually glanced at the window, Theo Carroll and Ramona Gale paused for a few minutes before the window and read Mr. Massey's introduction.

"It's frightening to look at that, but what a horrible statement it makes," said Ms. Carroll, who was visiting from Sarasota, Fla.

"It's certainly something people don't want to talk about and face," Ms. Carroll said, referring to the crime of rape. "And it's something so common and minimized."

'I'm offended'

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