In this vast world, there are museums of all kinds: Contemporary art, American history, technology, and film. The list is as long as the catalogue of each collection, opening up a specialized world to those who walk through the doors seeking knowledge on the thousands of pieces curated by a team of experts. Which brings us to one of the most specialized museums in the world. The penis museum.
Actually, calling it the “penis museum” would be inaccurate, maybe even a bit too easy. The institution is know as the The Icelandic Phallological Museum, where the “largest collection of phallic specimens belonging to all the various types of mammal is found in a single country.” Phallology is the the scientific study of the penis, a field which has been casually scoffed and chuckled at for perhaps too long. Yet it is the research and dedicated work of father and son, Sigurður Hjartarson and Hjörtur Gísli Sigurðsson, that finally stopped the chuckles and gave validity to the study of phallology, culminating in the museum itself, which houses hundreds of pieces. From their website:
The Icelandic Phallological Museum contains a collection of more than two hundred and fifteen penises and penile parts belonging to almost all the land and sea mammals that can be found in Iceland. Visitors to the museum will encounter fifty six specimens belonging to seventeen different kinds of whale, one specimen taken from a rogue polar bear, thirty-six specimens belonging to seven different kinds of seal and walrus, and one hundred and fifteen specimens originating from twenty different kinds of land mammal: all in all, a total of two hundred and nine specimens belonging to forty six different kinds of mammal, including specimens from Homo Sapiens.
I was so very lucky to be able to get to talk to the current curator and director of the Icelandic Phallological Museum, Hjörtur Gísli Sigurðsson, who has since taken over for his father and made the museum into one of the most popular destinations in the world.
Persephone Magazine: How did The Icelandic Phallological Museum come into existence? From what I understand, it started out as a private collection of Sigurður “Siggi” Hjartarson and has now been passed to you, Hjörtur.
Hjörtur Gísli Sigurðsson: It all really started as a joke. The foundation was laid in 1974 when my father got a Pizzle as a gift (it was a dried bull’s penis). At that time, we were living in the town of Akranes, on the southwest coast, and my father was the headmaster in a secondary school. Some of his teachers used to work in the summer in a nearby whaling station, and after the first specimen, they started bringing him whale penises, supposedly to tease him. Then the idea came up gradually that it might be interesting to collect specimens from more mammalian species.
Collecting these organs progressed slowly in the beginning, and by 1980 he had 13 specimens, four from whales and nine from land mammals. In 1990, there were 34 specimens and when the museum opened in Reykjavík in August 1997, the specimens were at 62. Now the museum houses more than 280 specimens and hundreds of pieces of art.
PM: What is the aim of The Icelandic Phallological Museum? We can all chuckle at the obvious surface level stuff, but in all seriousness, what does the museum hope to shed light on?
HGS: The more serious aim of the museum is to lift the wail or taboo that has overshadowed all discussion about this remarkable organ and to make it possible for individuals to undertake serious study into the field of phallology in an organized, scientific fashion.
PM: As a curator, how do you decide what goes in the museum or what you want to highlight?
HGS: The things we put on display have to fit the museum’s chosen theme, of course. Real biological specimens we preserve in several different fashions; some we preserve in formaldehyde, others we dry and mount on plaques, some are tanned, etc. Art and utensils that fit the theme are also on display and here we allow everything as long as it isn’t offending in any way.
PM: What I love is the blatantness and sincerity of this museum. I do not think we could ever have something like this in the U.S. because people would think it was too taboo. What has been the response in Iceland? Have you had any international response?
HJS: The response in Iceland has been 99 percent positive. Maybe a bit perplexed in the beginning. This is a liberal country and when people saw that the collection wasn’t pornographic, but for science, they didn’t have a problem with it. Nowadays we get a lot more attention from abroad than at home.
PM: What have been the largest challenges of not only taking over and running the museum, but moving it to Reykjavik?
HGS: As with any other business, relocation is always a setback in the short run, but in the long run, I’m certain that it was the right move. Now we are more accessible and get more visitors than ever before.
PM: Do you have a favorite piece in your curatorial collection?
HGS: Well, the newest one is usually the favorite at any given time. If I had to choose, I would say that from the marine mammal section I would pick the walrus, from the Icelandic mammal section I would choose the reindeer, from the foreign section the giraffe, and the hidden man from the folklore section.
PM: You are slated to set the standard for phallology worldwide. As a trailblazer in your field, what is it you want to showcase?
HGS: I try to live up to the standard my father set, and believe me, that’s quite a job. But the thing I have set in the foreground is the modernization of the museum and I also would like to get more international recognition of phallology as a real scientific field of study. I am, for example, sponsoring the publication of a new book, scheduled to be launched on the 15th of March. This book, by Dr. Sigurjón Baldur Hafsteinsson and published by LIT Verlag in Germany, portrays some of the aesthetic, political, moral, social, and cultural significance of the museum.
PM: What are your hopes for the future of the museum?
HGS: My hopes are that the museum will continue to grow in every sense of the word.
To find out more on The Icelandic Phallological Museum, visit their website: Phallus.is/en
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7 replies on “Interview with Hjörtur Gísli Sigurðsson, Curator and Director of The Icelandic Phallological Museum”
I can’t wait for the documentary to come out about the museum’s search for a human penis.
How curious! Thank you for bringing this odd delight to a greater audience!