A small problem always rears its head when one writes about The Dirty Show - and no, it has nothing to do with censorship.
The Dirty Show, now in its 14th year as Detroit's favorite Valentine's Day gift, is now acknowledged as an internationally-acclaimed exhibit of erotic art. That means there should be respectful prose and a serious attitude about the show's importance to local identity.
But The Dirty Show is also a party - a Motor City gala second to none and one rivaled only by Theatre Bizarre for the loyalty shown it by a legion of regular visitors and performers. Polysyllabic praise for its aesthetic importance must therefore keep occasionally awkward company with words and observations best suited for a ... well, a friendly neighborhood bash where an awful lot of skin and hilarity abound.
In the beginning, of course, a lighthearted approach was precisely what Jerry Vile, Jeremy Harvey, Glenn Barr and other stellar satellites at Orbit magazine desired back in 2000. The original "cocktail napkin prospectus" envisioned an exhibit of works that would simply give local artists a chance to unwind their collective libido without yielding to either prurience or that perpetual art/porn debate so beloved by the academics.
But something happened after that. It was noticed as early as the fourth show that people from outside the state were appearing in numbers impressive enough to gain the attention of the national press. Then those bearing passports began dropping by to drop off art.
One very impressive submission this year is being brought by noted artist Gregory de la Haba of New York. Jerry Vile afforded us the following description.
"Gregory de la Haba is our special guest artist. And his installation, 'Equis Maximus' is the most important piece of art we have ever displayed at The Dirty Show. It depicts a menage a trois between three life-size horses. A combination of taxidermy and sculpture and a few other things. It's the biggest, most adventurous, over-the-top piece we have ever had - that anyone has ever had. There isn't anything like this anywhere, it caused a major stir at Art Basal (which is how I found out about it). It's engaging, powerful and totally unforgettable - which is really everything a contemporary piece should be. I personally find it beautiful and hysterical. Some people are going to find it disturbing, which is fine. Everyone is going to experience this piece in a different way but the one thing they will all share is the memory of seeing it. You can't wash this out of your brain."
So now we have another excursion into the reality of ... well, the reality of our brain, our loins, ourselves and our being. It's going to be the best kind of excursion - one with plenty of side trips and stops along the way to view the beautiful, the shocking, the outre and the obvious. It's Detroit examining the part of its persona that is frequently overshadowed by its traditional identity of steel and assembly line products.
And that begs a question. Does Detroit have a sexual persona that is free-wheeling or is it more assembly line? Jerry Vile was asked that question while he and his associates were putting the final touches to the upcoming show at (once again) Bert's Warehouse in Eastern Market.
"I would say we are pretty assembly line," he explained recently. "Europe has these huge pervy parties such as the Rubber Ball or Torture Garden with thousands upon thousands in latex and leather. Detroit doesn't have that, I don't know if it ever will. I think in Detroit the kink is underground - like when you are making arrangements for the burial, the funeral director is wearing your dead grandmother's panties. We are an art exhibition, not Craig's list but we are also a place where people can feel safe in drag, latex or whatever they want to wear. And this time they can dance - if they want to."
Let's do some dirty dancing, Detroit! | RDW
West Coast art figure Lenora Claire has been invited to be a guest curator at this year's Dirty Show. She came to national attention with Golden Gals Gone Wild, a pop culture tribute/erotic art show inspired by The Golden Girls.
Tell us about yourself, please.
I've been an entertainment journalist, TV and nightlife personality and I currently cast outrageous reality shows. But my greatest joy is being a button-pushing national news attention-getter as an art curator. I wanted to explore the idea of senior sexuality but with a pop culture twist, and I love being able to do that with Bea Arthur's B cups. I will always be proud of getting artists like Chris Zimmerman and Ed Mironiuk on TMZ, NPR, NBC News and all the other media outlets that have covered the show over the years. I feel very lucky people have been so supportive.
How did your involvement in this year's Dirty Show come about?
Jerry Vile asked me to appear in the LA version of The Dirty Show, so I curated a room called "Group Sex" which featured erotic art by musicians such as Mark Mothersbaugh from Devo. I loved everything about Jerry and we kept in touch. Then he asked me to bring some new pieces to Detroit.
The Dirty Show is always confronted with this question - is it art or is it pornography? How do YOU differentiate between the two?
Jerry had the best answer. I think he said porn has a "purpose" beyond what it shows. How can I possibly top that?
Is there a difference between LA sexy and Detroit sexy?
I've never been to Detroit before, but I'll make sure to bring as much LA sexy with me as I can and then we can compare.
Olivia (whose art graces the cover of our issue this week) painted your portrait not too long ago. What was that like? We've been told you're a great fan.
I've been a huge fan since my teens, but to me it's even more incredible that I can call her a friend now. She's one of the most amazing women I've ever met and she's just as kind, smart and funny as she is talented. I learned so much curating the Bettie Page: Heaven Bound show which featured her work and I still can't believe I get to look at a painting she did of me every day I leave or enter my apartment. I know I shouldn't objectify her, but she's a total fox too! I also love her relationship with her husband Joel who photographs all her models and runs her business and publishing. They give me hope that there's a cool art weirdo out there for me too. Who knows? Maybe I'll even meet him at The Dirty Show.
What are the particular joys of curating an art show?
I was named one of the People of the Year by L.A. Weekly after they visited several of my curated shows and they described me as "a P.T. Barnum with boobs" - which I feel nicely sums it up. I like creating the spectacle and hype that gets deserving artists the attention and sales that they deserve. I love creating a concept and getting everyone together for the celebration which is why I think of what I do as more of a pARTy than, say, a traditional opening.
You're also a great fan of other illustrators and artists?
Of course! I love Alberto Vargas. As far as I'm concerned Olivia is the queen of pin-up, but I'm also crazy about Sorayama.
An erotic art show inspired by The Golden Girls. How did Betty White react to that?
I was all over TMZ, so I'm pretty sure Betty is aware of it. Betty was an actual nude pin-up in the '40s. If you google her you can find her nude wearing only ear muffs. Something tells me she really appreciates the show. | RDW
The dirty show • 2/8-2/10 & 2/14-2/16, TIMES VARY • BERT'S WAREHOUSE • 2739 RUSSELL ST., DETROIT • DIRTYSHOW.ORG • prices vary