NEW YORK — Seattle can keep its new music museum; a SoHo art gallery is offering a more revealing exhibition: the plaster casts of legendary musicians’ penises, in the show “The Life of Cynthia Plaster Caster: 1968–2000.”
On display at the Thread Waxing Space through July 29, the art show features the private parts of four decades of musicians, including those of Jimi Hendrix, Dead Kennedys‘ Jello Biafra, Revolting Cocks‘ Chris Connelly, MC5‘s Wayne Kramer, the Mekons‘ Jon Langford, the Muffs‘ Ronnie Barnett, and Demolition Doll Rod‘s Danny Doll Rod, all taken by artist Cynthia “Plaster Caster” Albritton, a self-professed music groupie.
Albritton, who goes by Cynthia Plaster Caster, began casting molds in the late 1960s, when, as a 19-year-old student at the University of Illinois in Chicago, her art teacher gave her an assignment to make a plaster cast of “something hard.” After experimenting on male friends, she cajoled Jimi Hendrix into casting his penis in 1968, just one year after his seminal Are You Experienced? album was released.
Meeting Hendrix was “unfathomable,” said the 53-year-old artist, speaking from her Chicago home. “It was exciting just to be able to ride the elevator up to his hotel room. Usually, I had to climb the fire escape to meet musicians.”
Albritton’s journal entry the day she met Hendrix accompanies the 36 casts on display at the SoHo gallery, as does her antiquated-looking “Plaster Caster” suitcase and molding equipment. Her journal notes of Hendrix’s casting spares no details: Albritton notes that Hendrix was a good sport despite the fact that “his pubes got stuck in the mold. It took me 15 minutes to very gingerly pull them out one by one without hurting him.”
Over the next decades, the artist said she cast musicians backstage after concerts and in hotel rooms, lost her virginity to Paul Revere and the Raiders‘ Mark Lindsay along the way, and built up a reputation as a respectable music groupie.
Casting A Hard Rocker
Most of the musicians, she said, were curious and obliging in being cast, although more than a few of her subjects first sacrificed a roadie so that the rock stars could see what the technique was. The casting process required a martini-shakerlike canister filled with the dental compound alginate, a musician willing to dip his erect penis into the shaker, then plaster poured into the mold and set to dry.
According to Albritton, Hendrix was the most fun to cast, and Aynsley Dunbar, the Journey drummer and veteran of Mothers of Invention and the Bluesbreakers, was the most difficult.
“He wouldn’t dip into the canister until he thought he was big and beefy enough. I was wasting a lot of alginate waiting for him,” she said.
The casts are displayed in glass orbs at Thread Waxing Space. Having all her art pieces in one place, Albritton said, makes her feel like a proud mama.
Fulfilling The Dream
“It’s been a dream of mine to display them for the last 30 years,” Albritton said. “It took finding the right people and the right place to show them. I didn’t want to display them in a rock venue, as a lot of that memorabilia stuff is really cheesy.”
“This is life art,” said Lia Gangitano, curator of Thread Waxing Space, noting that Albritton’s works are appropriate to show now, in the light of the feminist, personal and often sensationalist art currently in vogue.
The original molds, the first 22 of which Albritton made — including Hendrix, MC5′s Dennis Thompson, the Young Rascals‘ Eddie Brigati and singer Anthony Newley — were eventually bronzed and are now kept in a Chicago bank vault. Locking them up for security reasons came after a five-year legal battle with Herb Cohen, Frank Zappa‘s ex-business partner, who had been in possession of the casts, claiming that Albritton had sold them to him. (She claims she had lent them to him for safe-keeping.) Albritton won back the casts in 1994.
The casts have never been appraised, and while the artist said she has no plans ever to sell the originals, art buyers will be pleased to know she is looking into selling the limited editions of the reproductions.
Albritton is currently working on casting the breasts of female musicians. So far, she’s immortalized those of L7‘s Suzi Gardner and is looking to cast more rock-musician breasts.
As for her male casts, which she continues to work on, Albritton’s wish list contains a dearth of chart-popular musicians, as she said she finds the current music scene disappointing. Still, Buena Vista Social Club, take note: “I’d like to meet them. They are very welcome in my collection — if they’re not too old to pose,” she said.
Asked if, after meeting hundreds of musicians, Albritton still considers herself a music groupie, the artist said she labels herself “a recovering groupie.”
“I still have groupie reactions when I see a beautiful boy playing music in front of me,” she said. “I consider the backstage possibilities.”