izhar patkin

Norman; the Average American Male 1981
chrome coat paper,
enamel spray paint,
size variable

private collection

Norma and her male counterpart, "Normman," were statues modeled by Gynecologist Robert Latou Dickinson and Sculptor Abram Belskie. The statues were supposed to represent the average American male and female. They were reproduced for the first time in Harry L. Shapiro’s article, "A Portrait of the American People," in Natural history magazine, 54 (June 1945).

Table of Contents:
1. Norman, the collages
2. Excerpts from: Race and Representation: The Production of the Normal
text by Maurice Berger

3. The Shape We're In, text from Time Magazine


(click images for larger view)
norman the average american male izhar patkin norman the average american male izhar patkin
30” x 27”

norman the average american male izhar patkin norman the average american male izhar patkin norman the average american male izhar patkin norman the average american male izhar patkin
74” x 33”
Men from Mars
51” x 31”
54” x 25”
37” x 27”
37” x 30”

norman the average american male izhar patkin norman the average american male izhar patkin norman the average american male izhar patkin
Land of Nod
22” x 72”
54” x 25”

pinball machine, life size

Excerpts from:
Race and Representation:
The Production of the Normal

by Maurice Berger
catalog published by Hunter College Art Gallery, 1987

His tall, well-proportioned body is graceful and athletic.
His face, with its square jaw and high cheekbones, is perfectly
symmetrical. He is at once average and ideal. Modeled
from an averaging of the measurements of
thousands of "native white" men from many parts of the
United States, he is a composite of available data translated
into three dimensions. A model of "normal" perfection,
his name is, appropriately, Norman. And along with
his perfect sister Norma, he stands as a testament to the
"character" of the American nationality. Designed by Dr.
Robert Latou Dickinson, who drafted the proportions and
posture of the figures, and crafted by Abram Belskie,
Norma and Norman recall the psychotic enterprise of the
Nazi geneticists who searched for statistics to prove their
claims of Aryan superiority and beauty. Dickinson and
Belskie's enterprise, however, was neither irrational nor
motivated by bigotry; instead, their project underscores
the indifference of science and culture to matters of race
when fulfilling a blind ambition to determine "truth:”
The imperative to be normal, to fit in, to integrate
into society's mainstream often feeds racial bias, a need
that has provoked a reexamination of the question of
Norma and Norman forty years after their appearance in
Natural History magazine. The artist Izhar Patkin's collage
series Norman: The Average American Male (1981)
resounds with juxtapositions that shatter the
complacency of Norman's perfect world. Posed in a
range of passive positions - standing, sitting on a chair,
sitting on the floor, crouching, kneeling, sleeping - Norman
is now vulnerable; he is robbed of his pedestal and
his fig leaf, the affectations of artifice and purity that had
signified his social removal. Superimposed on Norman's
anonymous face in Men From Mars (1982), for example,
is a photograph of bizarre freaks - pathetic midgets
touted by their greedy circus promoters as "extraterrestrial"
creatures. Patkin questions the perfection we
expect from our cultural models. The image of the well adjusted,
normal person advanced by the media and the
arts to motivate and tempt the late-capitalist consumer
must now compete with the Others that populate our
environment. The Norman series, in its travesty of Dickinson
and Belskie's "Portrait of the American People,"
restates the extent to which even "innocent" representations
sustain racist ideologies. From the perspective of
representation, there will always be a threshold beyond
which difference becomes intolerable.
Central to a discussion of the rhetoric of racism is the
reality that every representation - every painting, photograph,
film, video or advertisement - is a function of
"someone's investment in the sending of a message,"
Because the most successful representations are those
which can be most easily apprehended, such rhetoric
often collapses into stereotypes that meet the common
need to simplify and organize meaning. For Umberto
Eco, these "codes of recognition" help to order and inter-
pret the world of information: "These codes [of recognition]
list certain features of the object as the most
meaningful for purposes of recollection or future communication:
for example, I recognize a zebra from a distance
without noticing the exact shape of the head or the
relation between legs and body. It is enough that I recognize
two pertinent characteristics - four-leggedness and
stripes:" A zebra with three legs or with dots instead of
stripes either would not be recognized as a zebra or, perhaps
as likely, would be considered a freak, for what is
not recognized is most often relegated to the realm of the
alien, the foreign, the abnormal. Both scientific and cult-
ural discourse reverberates with such distinctions: the
behaviorist who maintains that stubbornness in children
indicates pathology, the psychiatrist who proclaims
homosexuality a disease, the geneticist who speaks of
racial inferiority, the artist who portrays the lurid "exoticism"
of the Other all justify their claims by asserting an
equation between the abstract truth of the "normal" and
its relation to the wholesome, healthy, and good. To
respect what is recognized as normal is to belong to that
comfortable majority which lives at society's center. To
live outside this center is to exist at "risk:”


1. That Norma and Norman made their debut on the pages of an important
American magazine in 1945 - when news of the horrific Nazi atrocities
was filtering out of Europe - confirms the insensitivity of this
relentless search for standards and ideals. They were reproduced for the
first time in Harry L. Shapiro, "A Portrait of the American People," Natural
history, 54 (June 1945), pp. 248 and 252.

2. For a discussion of this issue, see Victor Burgin, "Photographic Practice
and Art Theory," in Thinking Photography, ed. Victor Burgin (London:
Macmillan, 1982), pp. 39-83.

3. "Critique of the Image," in Ibid.

The Shape We're In
Time Magazine, Monday, Jun. 18, 1945

How the average U.S. girl looks with her clothes off' was shown last week by Manhattan's American Museum of Natural History. The name of the girl is "Norma." She is a sculptured composite of 15,000 present-day U.S. women, aged about 18 (see cut). The museum's anthropologists exhibited her in Natural History to show the evolution of the U.S. female figure toward a taller, lustier type.
Norma and her male counterpart, "Normman," were modeled by Gynecologist Robert Latou Dickinson and Sculptor Abram Belskie. "That American look," observes Dr. Harry L. Shapiro, the Museum's curator of physical anthropology, has changed considerably since the 1890s. The modern girl is taller (5 ft. 3½ in.), longer in the leg, thicker in the waist (26.4 in.), and has slightly heavier hips (37.4 in.) and legs than the 1890 girl. But, thanks to a bigger bust (33.9 in.) and torso, her figure looks better proportioned, at least to the anthropologists.
Compared to the Greek ideal (e.g.., Aphrodite of Cyrene), Norma is relatively slim-hipped and less voluptuously curved; the trend in development of her figure seems to be toward the "high fashion" or dress-model type—a tall (5 ft. 7 in.) triangular shape with broad shoulders, very slender hips and long legs.
The male shape shows a similar trend: U.S. men are growing taller and heavier, have broader shoulders and narrower hips than their grandfathers of the 1890s. Anthropologist Shapiro believes there must be something in the American environment that produces tall men & women; the average U.S. height is now greater than that of any European country from which the U.S. people originally came.


Robert Latou Dickinson (1861-1950) was an American gynecologist and sex researcher. He has gained a modest reputation for having officially documented the largest penis to date (13.5 inches long, 6.25 inches around). An even larger (but unofficial) measurement was obtained in 1969 by Dr. David Reuben (14 inches long).


In 1938 Abram Belskie's friend, the renowned sculptor Malvina Hoffman, introduced him to the eminent physician Dr. Robert Latou Dickinson. Dr. Dickinson had been a pioneer in the creation of medical models, which are used to teach students anatomy, procedure and diagnosis. The doctor knew that the effectiveness of such models relied on the interpretation of a sensitive sculptor. The doctor prevailed upon the artist, and the first fruits of their collaboration were displayed in the exhibit of Maternal Health, located in the World's Fair of 1939. Dickinson and Belskie together created thousands of medical models until Dr. Dickinson's death in 1950.

Black and White 1981
40” x 52" photograph, chrome coat paper, enamel