Censorship is back in the news, but this time, it seems justified. An image was painted five stories high on an apartment building in Stockholm that upset residents so much that they now want it whitewashed. The same image appeared on an apartment building in Manhattan last year, though one story shorter, and neighbors there also asked for it to be painted over. The object of their disaffection? An erect penis.

People in piecemeal

My objection to this image begins and ends with the fragmenting of the human form. Maybe it's the turbulent times we live in that seem to tear us apart and leave us in pieces that make the sight of this work so distasteful.

Seeing a disembodied sex organ hanging on a wall the size of an apartment building is plainly off-putting. Both the Manhattan and Stockholm paintings were rendered by a woman and despite her assertion to the press that we need to be more open about sex, I have to wonder if her insistence on picturing male genitalia in such a splashy size isn't a look back in anger at all the times in art history that women are reduced to their Body Parts. I'm thinking of Pop artist Tom Wesselman's Great American Nude series that isolated the female breast or Realist painter Gustave Courbet's “Origin of the World” that set apart a woman's genitals.


Seeing bodiless sex organs, I find myself asking, where's the rest of us?

Humans are so much more complicated than any one of our body parts, even our sex organs that command so much of our attention. Clearly, that's what concerned Michelangelo when he carved the head of his statue “David” on a scale larger than the body. He worried that given the site of the statue – originally on the roofline of the Florence Cathedral dome - all that pedestrians would see is the lower body.

Missing the point

Even on ground level where the statue ended up, it's so tall (17 feet), one's sight line falls on the lower body. Missing from common view are his furrowed brow and anxious eyes suggesting his wariness. After all, David confronted a powerful enemy. Likely Michelangelo envisioned him nude, to emphasize his vulnerability.

Most people miss this point and, instead, focus on his private parts. Apparently, that's why Queen Victoria was so upset when the Grand Duke of Tuscany gifted her with a replica of the statue. A plastic fig leaf had to be added to ease the monarch's discomfort. Apparently, she overlooked his face.

Tell the true story

Even when nudes in art come with faces, states of mind go missing. Consider all the paintings through the ages that portray nude women without facial expressions, as if they were mindless - as if they were mannikins. Short of story-telling looks or bodily gestures, all you get are medical dictionary illustration. These days, in this seemingly soul-less world, the human condition needs full display.