Bernstein first conceived the schlong-faced, suited fellow in 1966 in response to the exclusionary rhetoric of then-Alabama governor George Wallace, famous for spouting the racist slogan, “Segregation now. Segregation tomorrow. And segregation forever.” “He was racist and reactionary,” Bernstein recalls, “and a real DICK!” So it was that her first “Cockman” works were born. In early iterations, the cartoonish, albeit monstrous, figure is surrounded by text inspired by the sexually explicit graffiti found in male bathrooms. “Why cook at home when you can eat out?” one reads.
From then on, Bernstein would make the phallus—and the bigoted and hostile actions of a range of powerful men—the subject of her life’s work. Her dicks have taken the form of spewing guns, as in The Fun Gun (1967) and Shooters (2010), and wall-scale screws-cum-carnivorous monsters, like in Double Header (1976). In an ironic twist, one such “screw” work, HORIZONTAL (1973), was censored from a 1974 exhibition in Philadelphia titled “FOCUS: Women’s Work— American Art in 1974” for “lacking redeeming social value.”