An Angel Who’s Glad to See You

There are many representations of male genitals at the Getty Museum, most on the baby Jesus or displaying shrinkage, to paraphrase the Guerilla Girls and Seinfeld. Only one is erect, that on Marino Marini’s 1948-9 Angel of the Citadel.

Peggy Guggenheim (left) described Angel of the Citadel in her memoir, Confessions of an Art Addict: “It was a statue of a horse and rider, the latter with his arms spread out in ecstasy, and to emphasize this, Marino added a phallus in full erection. But when he had it cast in bronze for me he had the phallus made separately, so that it could be screwed in and out at leisure.”

Erections were rarely a subject for Western art prior to Lynda Benglis. In that regard Marini, not known as an innovator, would have been daring. But art historian Angelica Zander Rudenstine supplied a few details that Guggenheim downplayed. Marini’s plaster models had only a Ken-doll bump in the genital region. It was Guggenheim who requested a penis. Marini complied, casting it separately.

The Guggenheim sculpture is displayed at her Venice (Italy) home, below, now a branch of New York’s Guggenheim Museum. “When the nuns came to be blessed by the Patriarch, who on special holy days, went by my house in a motor boat, I detached the phallus of the horseman and hid it in a drawer,” Guggenheim wrote. “I also did this on certain days when I had to receive stuffy visitors, but occasionally I forgot, and when confronted with the phallus found myself in great embarrassment.”

Marini made two more bronze versions of Angel of the Citadel, and both ended up in important American collections. One went to Edgar Kaufmann (of Frank Lloyd Wright Fallingwater fame), and the other to Hollywood producer Ray Stark. It’s Stark’s Angel that is now at the Getty.

Stark had his own Angel story: The bronze came from the sculptor without a penis. Agents Michael Ovitz and Ron Meyer, visiting Venice, noticed that Guggenheim’s Angel had something lacking in Stark’s. They sent Stark a photo of themselves next to the Guggenheim sculpture, inscribed with the message that they had found his lost manhood. They also sent a bronze cast of the penis.

Letters in the Getty Museum’s files tell a somewhat different tale. They say Stark “had a prolonged negotiation with Marini to obtain the phallus for the cast he’d acquired.”

Did Marini intend a prominent penis at all? Should free-spirited Guggenheim be considered the auteur of the erection? A key piece of the puzzle is missing. The Fallingwater Angel of the Citadel was destroyed in 1948, soon after installation, by a tornado.

In July 2009 a Getty visitor unscrewed the Stark Angel‘s penis. The museum briefly displayed Angel without it. The conservation department had to devise an re-attachment method that was reversible and bozo-proof. Since then, the anatomically complete Angel has become a Flickr phenom. On busy weekends, a trickle of visitors photograph and share it. The vernacular photogs don’t necessarily catch the name of the artist or the work. Search Flickr for “Getty Center Sculpture Penis” or something like that.

Flickr poster Veijito reports,

“As I was taking this picture — wondering how a dark horse in the shade would look with in the background a white wall in the sun — a respectable-looking art-loving gentleman standing next to me said, ‘In four hours, I’m calling a doctor!'”

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