Photos by BIRON: Victorious rods/Hot rods! 

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Art is either plagarism or revolution. -Paul Gauguin

"Sex is an integral part of our lives. Without it, we would not even exist. Therefore, sexuality has been occupying a central place in the collective imaginary and the artistic production since forever .... 

"In several European countries and indigenous tribes, nudity exposed in public spaces is something natural; polygamy is accepted in some Islamic countries; prostitution is a legal practice in some states, while condemned in others; there are countries where abortion is free, and others where it is forbidden. Even the concept of child has changed over time, just as its understanding in terms of age.

"The only absolute principle, which we cannot relinquish, is the respect for the other, for difference, and for artistic freedom. Consequently, it is necessary to reaffirm the need and the space for dialogue, allowing it to create conditions for all of us – each one of us with our own beliefs, practices, political and sexual orientations – to live together in harmony."

-Preface to "Histories of Sexuality," Museum of Art of San Paulo (MASP), October 20, 2017 to February 2, 2018  

In addition to that most recent San Paulo, Brazil exhibition, other major museums under the impetus of enlightened curators, art historians, and collectors who are challenging the notion of what is acceptable as Art are rejecting the conventional negative view regarding pornography. For example, prior to the show "Naked Men - From 1800 to the present," held at the Leopold Museum in Vienna, October19, 2012 to January 28, 2013, no previous major museum exhibition," according to the d'Orsay Museum's website, "had opted to take a fresh approach, over a long historical perspective, to the representation of the male nude." <Leopold Museum>

A year later, the d'Orsay Museum in Paris, drew on the wealth of its own collections and of other French public collections, sought to take an interpretive, playful, sociological and philosophical approach to the male nude in the exhibition: "Masculine/Masculine, 'The Naked Man in Art from 1800 to the present," (September 24, 2013 to January 2, 2014) <D'Orsay Museum>. Of these two male nude exhibitions, the Leopold Museum 's was by far the more daring with erect penises. (New York Times review of d'Orsay's Male Nude Exhibition:

The French catch phrase 'verges victorieuses' [victorious verges] was coined on October 19, 2013, by Elodie Cambrera in the Paris magazine Le Nouvel Observateur in response to Camille Polllonni's question: "Why is there no erect penis in the exhibition «Masculine/Masculine» at the d’Orsay Museum?"

Xavier Rey, the curator of that exhibition and the d'Orsay Museum, explained: "Though man is body, man is desire and the human body responds to the desire .... But to represent the male sex in erection, raises an epidermal problem: where to draw the line between art and pornography? .... the Museum has made an artistic choice in deciding to not show penises in erection...." Elodie Cambrera's adds: "Many artists have tried to reproduce the victorious rods, whether Egon Schiele in his "naked self-portraits" or Jean Cocteau through his erotic drawings for the book "Querelles de Brest" by Jean Genet. The d'Orsay Museum, which exhibits these same artists, chose to pick among their most modestly correct works."

That article in Le Nouvel Observateur sparked a lively transatlantic email exchange between me and Nicole Canet – owner of the Au Bonheur du Jour gallery – who represented me in Paris from October 2004 to April 2018. We asked ourselves then: Why not reply to this glaring omission in the d'Orsay exhibition with our own gallery counter-exhibition titled: 'Verges victorieuses' that would feature some of my photographs of multicultural males with erect penisses? I had already started selecting images when late one night a rock was thrown through one of Canet's gallery storefront windows. She was still in the gallery at the time. Fearing further vandalism or other retaliation if she mounted that controversial show, the idea for a Verges victorieuses show was shelved.

Now, ten years later, at 82, isn't time to mount the 'Verges victorieuses' exhibition with the 37 photographic portraits of my multicultural male models from 1993 to 2016. This exhibition would serve in some small way to rectify an historical imbalance where female nudity has routinely been exhibited while the male nude – especially when erect – has rarely been shown in a positive context devoid of a nagging obsolete moralism that persists largely unchallenged in the 21st Century.

This exhibition sparked the immediate and unexpected rupture of my long association with Nicole Canet, at the Au Bonheur du Jour Gallery in Paris, who refused the full set photographic prints of this exhibition that I mailed her on the grounds that they went beyond her acceptable standards and would be of no interest to her clients.

The representation of an erect penis is by definition pornographic and proof of male sexual arousal either self-induced or involuntary as is often the case with healthy young males. That involuntary eroticized state though completely natural, can nonetheless be an embarrassment when, for example, a youthful wrestler displays in public his bulging singlets or, in my experience, a model apologizes for his erection while stripping for a photo shoot.

"It's not pornography, it's Art:" That familiar argument assumes the word 'pornography' is a purely negative value judgment when it is essentially a descriptive word of Classical Greek origin meaning: 'erotic (porno) + image (graphic).' The US Supreme Court argued from that negative position when it banned both images and the written word it deemed obscene, of no redeeming social value, and to which the First Amendment's guarantees of free speech did not apply.

In a world dominated by virtual reality in which in 2017, alone, Pornhub got 28.5 billion visits, a strong argument can be made that the millions of sexual images online serve to deter sex crimes and are an expression of safe sex that we all should promote. How many victims have been spared the horrors of AIDS, STDs, and even rape because of the positive social impact of pornography? Isn't that a sufficiently redeeming social value? Perhaps a similar case can be made for the legalization of prostitution.


NOTE: The signed 8x12" archival prints on Fuji paper of all 37 images sent to the Au Bonheiur du Jour Gallery in Paris – first exhibited here online in 2018 – were archived in 2021 in the Photos by BIRON Collection at the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University in Bloomington. The Kinsey Institute is not a cemetery for sex-related materials, but a pro-active enterprise dedicated to promoting the values of its founder. My photos are not meant to be stored and hidden, but to be exhibited and enjoyed freely by the public as they have been on my website since 1996.

-Biron, San Francisco, April 20, 2018 (revised September 12, 2023)

Photos by BIRON: Victorious rods – >        <– the Gallery

The black leather and several of the other costumes worn by the models courtesy of Peter Berlin.