Normman

Introduction:

In thinking about the previous post More Trash Talk I am reminded about a particular work by Izhar Patkin titled Norman; the Average American Male (1981). The work was part of an exhibition by Maurice Berger in 1987 called Race and Representation (excerpt), which showed at Hunter College Art Gallery, New York.

What I am thinking of are the quotes by Rothenberg, Terry, Wray and Newitz (Castle 4):

  • “It is always whiteness that is centered and assumed. Difference is understood in relation to it.”
  • “To be white in America is not to have to think about it.”
  • [Whites] “stand as unmarked, normative bodies and selves.”

Patkin

Patkin’s piece is based on the published work of gynecologist Robert Latou Dickinson and sculptor Abram Belskie who modeled statues to represent the average American male and female (emphasis mine).

Firstly, “Normman” (the Dickinson/Belskie models) emphasizes the naturalness, the normalcy of the European body/face. Because the models were initially shown in Manhattan’s American Museum of Natural History (1945), the models behave as an institutionally sanctioned statement about what normal is. The statement essentially says that if your physique does not look like these models then you are not normal. In addition, they assert that as normal bodies they are centered (not marginal) and unmarked.

Also, I think it is important to note the language initially used by the news magazine Time in describing the introduction of the models to the public at the AMNH as sexualized and objectifying. Time described “Norma” (the female version) as a “taller, lustier type.” The article also compares Norma to the Greek ideal.

Patkin created idealized re-presentations from the statues of the American physique in a series called Norman, the Average American Male (1981). Berger in writing for the catalogue (excerpt) describes Patkin’s treatment as shattering the myth of what normal is. Norman has been displaced from his pedestal.

And still….as I wrote this post I thought of Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth and an image I had seen with a statue on it. After a quick google I find Mark Wallinger’s Ecce Homo (1999). Fifty-four years after the original Normman and Norma. What does Wallinger say of his work? While there is discussion of the way Christ may have looked, Wallinger apparently says, “I wanted to show him as an ordinary human being” (emphasis mine).

– – – – –

Work Cited

Castle, Charles S. “’White Trash’ Identities, Media, and Popular Culture: Redefining White Hegemony in Contemporary American Culture.” Cultural Landscapes 1.1 2007 3-33. Columbia College Chicago. Web. 2009.

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