Balls Out: Rodriguez says Artomatic gave him the shaft. Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Since 2000, Eduardo Rodriguez has been known as Artomatic’s “Penis Guy.”

“People say, ‘Eduardo, your penis pictures are the most popular in the show. Where are the penis pictures?’ They all want to see them,” explains Rodriguez, an Adams Morgan photographer. “People will come up to me and say, ‘Oh my God, you’re the guy who does the penis pictures.’”

There are no penis pictures at this year’s Artomatic. Instead, Rodriguez’s reserved plywood partition is blank, save for a couple of swirls of red paint and some discarded tape—the remains of Penis Guy’s hasty retreat.

Why did Penis Guy take down his penis pictures? The controversy originated in the spot adjacent to Rodriguez’s now-abandoned space (at NW B1 on the 9th floor) where Moore Photography, a mother-daughter team, exhibit their work. Photos of flowers, butterflies, and fireworks are carefully matted and labeled with titles like “Reflections,” “Delectable,” and “Simply Elegant.” Rodriguez’s Cocksure Series was a bit different: neck-down nudes, mostly male, with message-inscribed torsos—easy to swallow reads one. Another: i am not hung.

The visual irony of a 15-year-old’s flora mounted alongside Rodriguez’s phallic extravaganza wasn’t part of Artomatic’s vision and juxtaposition sets up a vintage Artomatic drama. This one plays out in the following sequence:

• On Wednesday, May 7, the last day of Artomatic’s two-week installation period, Rodriguez enters the Artomatic building at 1200 First St. NE and begins hanging his Cocksure Series.

• The next day, Rodriguez reenters the building, officially closed to artists, to apply some finishing touches.

• In the meantime, another artist notices Rodriguez’s last-minute installation and notifies Moore Photography of the content. The Moore family, unimpressed by Penis Guy’s pedigree, complains to Artomatic without having seen Rodriguez’s work.

• Artomatic officials confront Rodriguez at his space. On the night before Artomatic’s opening, two hours before the building’s close, Rodriguez is asked to remount his penis pictures in another spot, away from a minor.

“I’m still reeling from it,” says Rodriguez. “I’m still sort of surprised that it happened.” According to Rodriguez, though Artomatic organizers offered him the chance to move, they didn’t give him sufficient time to reinstall his pieces. So Rodriguez, who has exhibited photos from the Cocksure Series at every Artomatic since 2000 (save for last year’s at the Crystal City location—more on that later), removed the installation and begrudgingly asked for a refund. “I was told that the girl had invited all her friends,” says Rodriguez. “I was like, I invited all of my friends, too.”

Now Rodriguez is claiming that Artomatic censored his work. “For some reason, the penis will just incite people to call me a pervert,” says Rodriguez. “Two years ago, there was a series of a woman being fisted, and everybody was fine with that,” he says. “But show some erect penises, and it really offends people.” When Rodriguez’s acquaintance Tammy Vitale heard about the incident, she initiated a discussion on an artdc.org message board, which houses Artomatic’s official online community: “A photographer friend who participated in the children’s museum Artomatic has apparently been censored,” she wrote. “The parents of his space mate objected to his photographs and although he eventually got his money back he is left with less than a good feeling about this.”

Artomatic organizers counter that they have no problem with Rodriguez’s penises; they do, however, have a problem with Rodriguez. Penis Guy is apparently a bit of an Artomatic renegade. Following Vitale’s post, the thread lit up with allegations concerning Rodriguez—well, most of them were about “Penis Guy,” “Cock Photo Guy” (or “CPG”), and “asshole.” Claims of Rodriguez’s past indiscretions include installing his penis pictures at last year’s Crysal City show without registering or paying (Rodriguez says he used a friend’s free space; the photos were removed before the opening); sneaking into the building “illegally” after hours to work on this year’s exhibit; waiting until the last minute to “sneak” his work into the show; hanging his photos haphazardly with masking tape and crudely spray-painting the word cock on the wall.

Three images from Eduardo Rodriguez’s “Cocksure Series”

Offensive art, unprofessional techniques, and willful neglect of rules: Are these not the things that Artomatic is made of? Not anymore, it seems. This year’s Artomatic, the first staged in a brand-new building, is slick, sponsored, and highly organized. “It kind of freaks me out that it looks so fancy this year, especially compared to the last two events,” says Rebecca Gordon, co-chair of the steering committee. “I mean, look at us right now: We’re sitting in a lounge on lit-up couches plastered with the Toyota Scion logo.” In the Scion lounge, Gordon explains that Rodriguez’s past rule-bending and excessive procrastination left Artomatic with no choice but to ask him to move his work to accommodate the minor. Rodriguez’s withdrawal from the show was “unfortunate,” she says. “I’m sad that he’s not showing this year, but the rules are so simple,” says Gordon, who says that Rodriguez is not banned from future shows. “He understands the issues.”

Rodriguez chalks up the indiscretions to personality quirks. “I’m the most nonconfrontational person you’ll ever meet,” he says. “I always procrastinate and do it all at the last minute. That’s just how it works.…They knew in advance that this was the type of work that I did, but now they’re saying that I was trying to sneak it in. But there are no rules that say you have to put it up a certain time.”

Actually, as Artomatic steering committee co-chair Tracy Lee will tell you, there are. When Artomatic received the complaint, Lee, Michelle Banks, and Paul Sikora were on hand to deal with the situation. On Thursday night, she headed to Rodriguez’s space to find him applying last-minute details to the photos when the building was officially closed to artists. “When we went up to the wall, the artist in question was there on site, which he was not allowed to be doing. He should not have been there,” says Lee. “We only have, like, three rules at Artomatic, and I think he’s broken them all.”

Even minus the penises, Artomatic still houses some stuff that the Moores mightn’t enjoy. A light bondage scene, a pencil drawing of a mystical faerie smoking from a glass piece, and a plaster bodycast of male genitalia mounted to the wall speak to the “adult” art crowd. The same can’t always be said for the artists behind the work. “I feel like I’m in high school again,” says Rodriguez. “Some of those people just need to grow up.”

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