The phallus palace
"I've bought two or three penises before most people's alarm clocks have gone off."
"It's my morning ritual," says the collector. "I get a cup of coffee and open up eBay and Etsy. I've bought two or three penises before most people's alarm clocks have gone off."
The collector, who wishes not to reveal his name, lives in an $850-a-month rent-stabilized apartment on the Upper West Side — the same place he's resided since 1977. The spacious, railroad-style abode has seen its fair share of collections come and go over the past 24 years. First, he collected various versions of the five of spades, from playing card decks. Then, it was misters — anything to do with the word "mister," be it Coffee, Clean or T. There was also the series of devils and a collection of Nancy comic strip paraphernalia — that androgynous, hollow-eyed, Brillo-haired girl made famous by Ernie Bushmiller. But in the end, one collection stood high above the rest: penises.
There are well over a thousand pieces of penis-related art in his home, and yes, the collection is growing on a daily basis.
Upon entering the apartment, the first penis you will most likely notice is a winged phallus hanging from the entrance to the living room. After that, your eyes may settle upon the upward curve of a bronze coat hanger, the drawing of a little boy peeing into Humpty Dumpty's mouth, or the statue of David above a toilet. The collector's apartment is a cacophony of cocks. A deluge of dicks. A plethora of penii.
Standing 6'2" with snow-white hair, the collector, age 58, admits that even he has to be careful not to hit his head on some of the low-hanging fruit when moving about his apartment.
"You should see the faces on the delivery guys when they come up. I open the door to get my food, and they get a glimpse inside. Dicks everywhere! You can see their eyes widen, and then they always take this tiny step backwards. I live for the day when a hapless religious proselytizer makes the mistake of knocking on my door."
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Alas, the rest of us will most likely not have a chance to see the apartment. The collector chose to remain anonymous for this article not because he is embarrassed of the sexual content of his collection ("I have no shame, and I love the shock effect," he says), but because he would like to avoid having random people tracking him down for a viewing.
"I like that it's a private collection. It's just for the people I choose," he says. "I can't help it. I'm an elitist."
Back in 1977, the collector was a sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll party animal who hung out at music and dance club icons like Danceteria, The Mudd Club, and CBGBs. These days, he's more of a homebody with 25 years of sobriety and an extensive collection of independent films.
Although he makes a good living, most of his money goes to his collection. As such, he sometimes has trouble making ends meet. He supplements his day job as a concierge in the Garment Center, which he's held for more than two decades, by working "mad hours of overtime" running a freight elevator.
"All of my money used to go to booze and drugs," he says. "Now I spend all my money on phallic artworks. The difference between the two addictions is that I don't wake up with a hangover and all the penises are still there in the morning."
The first piece of phallic art he acquired was "a little Indonesian guy with a big penis with a red head on it." He bought it in a store on East Sixth Street in Manhattan, which, like so much of the East Village, is no longer there. When the store owner wrote out a receipt for him, she wrote the name of the piece in a scribble he couldn't quite make out.
"I asked her what she wrote, thinking it was the name of some kind of Indonesian god. She said 'Oh, I just wrote 'Penis Man.' And that's how I got the name of my collection: The Penis Men."
Beginning with this seemingly innocuous purchase, his home soon began to fill with penises. As a collector by nature, he simply couldn't help himself.
"I live in fear of accidentally getting two of something, because then it's a collection," he says. "That's how it starts!"
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But this is not just any willy-nilly collection of penis men. Each room is carefully curated around a theme. The living room is done in earth tones, decorated with mostly tribal-style art. (The original Indonesian "god" enjoys a prominent place here.) The bedroom is kitschier, outfitted in primary colors with well-endowed dolls like the anatomically correct "Billy," as well as jingling scrotum Christmas ornaments. The bathroom is decorated in black, white and neutral tones, with some of the more explicit and X-rated pieces lining those walls. For instance, even the handle to his bathroom vanity is a long, white penis.
"That's the fun part, choosing what goes where," he says. "It's like a 3-D collage! I literally live in an art installation!"
With the exception of a mother penis possessing a set of B-cups and three babies, there are no vaginas or other lady-parts mixed up in the collection. "If I collected vaginas, I'd collect vaginas," he explains. "But I collect penises. And I deliberately avoid pieces that feature both sexes. Vaginas would just diffuse the impact. These are male rooms. This is the phallus palace."
"I have nothing against women," he adds. "They're my second-favorite sex."
In addition to prints of works by Basquiat and Duchamp, there are paintings from many unsung artists lining the walls. Usually the artwork is from artists he discovers on eBay — with special attention paid to those devoted to the penis.
"I get them framed across the street, at a store owned by these cute young Muslim guys. At first, I was afraid of offending them. I asked if they would mind framing pornography and unrolled a drawing of two impossibly over-endowed black guys having sex in a public bathroom. He looked at the drawing and said, 'That's not pornography!' Then, without missing a beat, he pointed at a portrait of George W. Bush and said: 'THAT'S pornography!' Now, I just waltz in announcing 'More homo porn!'"
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Despite what that choice phrasing may imply, he stresses that it is not an exclusively "gay" collection.
"A lot of the pieces here are clearly homosexual, but a good many of them, some of the most beautiful of my penises, were sculpted by women. It's funny, but in American society at large, gay men are almost as phallophobic — is that a word? — as the heterosexual ones. Go to any of those 'rainbow' gift shops and you won't see any penises, just waxed pectorals."
He points to a life-sized, 200-pound bronze statue of an African-American boy sporting a baseball cap and holding what should, traditionally, be a fishing pole protruding from between his legs.
"That's the piece that really ties the room together," he says, going on to relive the day he found it.
"You see, wherever I go, I'll just walk into an antique or thrift store and ask, 'Do you have anything with a penis?' So, I'm in Florida, and I go into this little shop, and there's this big, scary, redneck-looking guy sitting behind the counter in front of a wall of guns. My first thought was, 'Don't ask him!' But, against my better judgment, I just spit out the question."
"He looked at me, his eyebrow arching. 'Ah pay-nhus?' and he lifts a sheet off of this thing sitting on a chair! I was stunned. It was just wrong on every level! It was one of those god-awful, ridiculously expensive bronzes! It was racist! It was child pornography! I had to have it!"
It was a full year before he was able to get the statue home, however. He finally rented a car in order to drive it back to New York. Now, what he calls a "staggeringly offensive piece of art" sits in a place of honor on the living room couch, holding a framed needlework that reads: Baby, I've got a boner for you.
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