It was a crisp and clear December day. I was leaving work to grab some lunch in the local corner deli when my eyes caught a familiar shape. Staring back at me, through the second floor window directly across the street, was a large hairy vagina. I paused a moment, my brain still processing.
I have spent a few years working on Broadway near Bleeker Street in NoHo, and I have seen this street chance dramatically. Restaurants have turned into used electronic stores, coffee shops into dope dealing hot spots, art galleries into hair salons. This particular workspace, now so elegantly vaginally decorated, had itself gone through many changes. Located in a second floor studio, directly above a clothing supply store, this space had underwent a complete redesign every few months. I was able to get a perfect view of each reconstruction by simply standing at the front of my store during slow times at work. Workers would toil away, tearing down all traces of the old business and constructing a whole new arena. Once this new space was finished, blinds would be installed and never again raised, preventing me from viewing the final redesign or any use thereof.
Until that one infamous day in December when I was confronted by a large vagina. The painting blended in neatly with the building’s facade and I briefly wondered how long it had been on display for attentive passersby. Below, on the street, cars and trucks zoomed down Broadway and tourists and residents alike bustled down the street. A man burst out of the used electronic store, cursing that the employees would not buy his old (stolen?) cellphone due to his lack of ID. He asked a woman who was walking by for a cigarette, and was denied.
The painting, entitled L’Origine du monde was painted by the French artist Gustave Courbet in 1866. An unabashedly erotic piece, the painting still has the power to shock even the most jaded of viewers. The painting’s power comes from its context. One may expect to find a large, legs spread, vagina within the pages of a plastic-bag-sealed magazine or a website with three x’s in the title. Not lining the busy streets of NoHo nor lining the walls of exclusive art galleries. Vaginae, while not foreign to these venues, definitely catch of viewer off guard, causing them to pause for a moment, and think. There is a large vagina staring back at you.
I smiled and strolled to the Deli for a turkey sandwich.