Great Wall of Vagina (Skin Deep exhibition)

(After publishing this post – I received a message from the artist – expressing his disappointment that my review was inaccurate and biased. I have added his message at the bottom of the post – followed with my response to his message and then his second response…)

Artist Jamie McCartney spent 10 years casting vaginas and they are now on display at Hayhill Gallery, Cork Street.

The Great Wall of Vagina exhibition is neither seedy nor pornographic. It is about exploring female genitalia.

McCartney says that “for many women their genital appearance is a source of anxiety and I was in a unique position to do something about that.”

The cast vaginas include those of identical twins, transgendered men and women and a pre and post natal woman. But none of them are labelled – so it becomes a rather odd guessing game.

The vaginas are delicate – pretty, even – rather nice individual sculptures. It is all quaint and dainty. But then you turn a corner in the gallery and suddenly feel under attack – by a display of erect penises. I think there are around 20 – a much smaller display than the Great Wall of Vaginas – but they are considerably more shocking and aggressive-looking.

Then it’s back to vaginas.

Downstairs there is a cast of the inside of a vagina – made using the resin that a dentist might use to cast the inside of the mouth. It’s quite fascinating to look at.

Throughout the exhibition there are large photographs of naked women. They don’t work amongst the sculptures. They detract – seeming to be a display of McCartney’s ability to work in different mediums, rather than a fitting addition to the exhibition.

Unable to focus solely on female genitalia McCartney has made an American flag out of the tip of his own penis cast lots of times. It is meant to be a comment on penis-power and nationalism, or something, but it just comes across as arrogant – and not arrogant in the way he intended.

The first lot of penises worked as they reaffirmed how delicate and intricate the vagina is – the second lot remind you that this is a male artist – interested in sex and sexuality. It is a shame he included the nude photographs and a slight overload on the male genitalia – The Great Wall of Vagina would have worked, very well, as an exhibition in its own right, perhaps with the erect penis display and some more sensitive photography or female genitalia.

However, it is great that McCartney chose to combat the mysterious vagina. Men are scared of it and women are anxious about it. This exhibition reminds you that vaginas come in all different shapes and sizes – no two are the same.

The exhibition is on until 2 June –

Hayhill Gallery
5a Cork St
London W1S 3NY
T: 020 7439 1001

McCartney’s comment on this post:

Although I appreciate you writing something about my show I take issue with a lot of what you have said. It seems very harsh considering what I’m trying to do. You seem to have missed the entire point of the show. I’m especially surprised by all the inaccuracies, which I feel I have to set straight here:
1. There is a show guide which highlights all the unusual casts, so no it isn’t a ‘guessing game’. This information is repeated on the education page on the website.
2. The penis casts are called 4×4 (ie 16 penises) and is a comedic piece about the male ego. The other called ‘Old Glory’ is also a comedic piece.
3. The cast of the inside of the vagina is in glass
4. The ‘photographs’ are actually the majority of the exhibition (23 out of 40 artworks). They feature both men and women and are utterly wrongly described by you. This is experimental work, taken without using a camera and have a very similar purpose to the vagina wall. The images are fascinating and beautiful and are a deliberate antidote to airbrushed images and impossible ideals of beauty. As you don’t provide a link to the show catalogue, I will put it here so people can make their own mind up:

5. There are 15 panels of female genitals featuring over 500 women and 2 panels of male genitals featuring 16 men. I’m wondering how that qualifies as an ‘overload’ of male genitals??
6. The whole exhibition is called SKIN DEEP and questions our societies’ obsession with the physical self by providing a fresh look at the body.

All that information is up on the wall, in the catalogue and freely available online. It’s great you want to write about the show but such a shame you took such a biased and inaccurate stance.

My response to this comment:

Dear Jamie,

I recieved the comment you left on my blog and wanted to clarify a few things.

Firstly – I thought the exhibition was great. The review was intended to reflect that, however – there were some aspects I preferred to others.

And so in response to your points –

1. I wasn’t given/ didn’t see a guide to the Great Wall of Vaginas. But the ‘guessing game’ was part of the fun for me. And so I might have done this anyway.

2. Comedy is subjective. I appreciate that comedy may have been your intention – but I was writing about my perception of the work.

3. The cast of the inside of the vagina, which is wonderful, was explained to me by one of your staff as having been cast by the resin a dentist might use. This is where my information came from but I apologise for the inaccuracy.

4. Regarding the photography, which you describe as ‘fascinating and beautiful’ – again, this is subjective. I preferred the vagina casts.

5. I thought it was fantastic that you chose to cast vaginas – an original, interesting topic. Personally, I think this would have worked very well with just the one penis installation upstairs – which was a wonderful contrast.

6. I will make it clear that the exhibition title is actually Skin Deep. I read about your exhibition whilst working – I can’t remember the website but it called it The Great Wall of Vagina – and so I took this as being the title of the exhibition.

Lastly – blogs are biased. They are places to express personal opinions on whichever subject matter interests you. I would like to reiterate, one last time – that your exhibition is very good. It is clearly controversial – and art that stimulates debate is important.

McCartney’s reponse:

Thank you Annie. The thing is I don’t want to show The Great Wall of Vagina with other work. It isn’t for sale as that would mean it would be lost to the world. So until I can find a museum to take it the only way I can get it shown is to have it alongside my commercial work whether it sits right with it or not. I have decided not to show it again with my other work which may mean it ends up sitting in storage for years, which would be a shame. 🙁 There is no money in it, it’s cost a fortune to make and five years of my life. It’s art for art’s sake, which is what I’m all about really.

Anyway, thank you for discussing my message. I’m sorry you were misinformed at the gallery. The vagina is glass in cast using dental alginate to make the cast of the inside of the woman. A mould is made of this to make a wax and this is then cast in glass. That is wherein lies the confusion. Even gallery staff don’t necessarily get the difference between a cast and a mould!

Thanks for not just yelling at me!

If you like I’ll stick you on my press list for future shows.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *