Bay Area artists battle over giant bra balls

By Margie Mason Associated Press Writer
Monday May 28, 2001

EL CERRITO – Hers weighs 650 pounds, his weighs 1,300 pounds, but when it comes to a competition between two giant balls of bras, does size really matter? 

San Francisco Bay area artists Emily Duffy and Ron Nicolino are more concerned with copyrights than cup size and cleavage. They’ve each retained lawyers and traded threatening letters as they brawl over who owns the concept. 

Meanwhile, their balls keep growing — huge spheres of lace, silk, padding and underwire bras of all colors, shapes and sizes. 

Nicolino — he wants to be known only as Nicolino — has used 14,000 bras from an abandoned project to hook them across the Grand Canyon. Now he’s pulling his ball to Los Angeles behind his 1963 flamingo pink Cadillac, looking for someone to sponsor a worldwide tour and eventually, a showcase where people can continue to build the ball by hooking on their own bras. 

“I think it’s a major important part of American art,” Nicolino said while displaying the 5-foot-wide “Big Giant Bra Ball” in San Francisco. “It’s making commentary as it’s driving along. It’s about making dialogue about body image.” 

Duffy, who says Nicolino stole her idea, says his roadside attraction is really about exploiting women. 

“The only reason I’m doing this is that I just don’t want it to be another case of a man getting one over on a woman,” Duffy said. 

Both balls keep growing, through spontaneous donation. 

Sandy Brychta of San Francisco marched right up to Nicolino’s ball at Pier 23, unbuttoned her jacket and stripped off a lacy beige number. She hooked it on, then walked off with her head held high. 

“They dared me, and I have been known as a person who accepts a challenge,” Brychta said, laughing with her friends. “This is probably the only way anyone’s going to see my bra since I don’t have a man in my life.” 

Nicolino, of Point Richmond, acknowledges that Duffy came up with the idea. He says they were going to collaborate, but he dropped her when she proposed using only some of the bras and sealing them with silicone, which he sees as demoralizing to women. 

Duffy, of El Cerrito, says Nicolino has got it all wrong. 

After he publicly offered to give the bras away last fall, she agreed to take some to decorate her Vain Van, a minivan festooned with black bras, Barbie doll busts, high-heeled shoes, curlers and a pink steering wheel that says “Princess.” 

When he told her to take all or nothing, Duffy proposed the bra ball idea. Shortly thereafter, he said he wanted to do the project alone. 

In protest, Duffy quickly sent for a copyright and launched a mass e-mail to her women friends, requesting their bras to build her own “BraBall.” 

Now it’s 5,850 bras thick and about 3 1/2 feet in diameter. There are well-worn bras from prostitutes, milk-stained nursing bras, furry bras and plain ones of all sizes, from training bras on up to 44PS (each cup seems big enough to double as a hat.) 

Both conceptual artists seem to have a thing for women’s underwear. Duffy, a former fashion designer, has created a series of collages and prints involving bras and thongs. Nicolino once used bras in a replica of the Statue of Liberty. 

As an incest survivor, Duffy sees herself as a strong feminist, but she never expected her e-mail would link thousands of other angry women’s bra straps together worldwide. She eventually wants to show the sculpture in galleries and donate it to a permanent home in a museum or the lobby of a women’s nonprofit organization. 

“It’s a monument to the average American woman who is so strong, and yet no one talks about that,” Duffy said. “She is solid in a very dense way — the way the ball is. Women hold this world together.” 

Duffy’s e-mail, which is still being forwarded, often prompts letters of support from the bra-senders, which include men, too, some of whom have lost family members to breast cancer. 

But no men, not even Duffy’s husband, are allowed to work on her BraBall. 

“For centuries, men have been using women’s bodies to make art,” she said. “This is a monument to us.”