The Dirty Show Interview: Prodding Jerry Vile

Whether you like it or not, The Dirty Show® is the event in Detroit art culture (if there is indeed a Detroit art culture…but I digress…). If you still haven’t attended one of the past twelve years of annual Valentine’s Day exhibitions, I thought I’d fill you in on what to expect and went directly to the source by interviewing Detroit art and literary legend, Jerry Vile, director of The Dirty Show® and editor of the much-mourned Orbit magazine.

Jerry Vile is a loveable asshole type. I have heard people say that The Dirty Show® exhibit is a remarkably accurate reflection of his personality. I disagree.

Jane Fader and Jerry Vile at DAMNED, October 2010

Jane Fader: How would you describe The Dirty Show® to a virgin attendee?

Jerry Vile: The Dirty Show® is about artists working with the erotic theme. But some of it isn’t erotic. We cheat. We have put up charcoal figure studies that are not erotic in any way other than nudity. We also hang up what fine art people would call crafts, like this year we’re exhibiting a blowjob rug. We don’t really worry about it. What are they gonna do–throw us in art jail? The first thing you learn in art school is, art is whatever you can get away with. A dead man said that. When he was still alive of course.

JF: But it’s more than just a stoic art exhibit. How would you describe the event’s atmosphere?

JV: It’s as intriguing as digging around in your parents’ room when they are at work. I use that analogy because if you are an erotic artist that is probably whose basement you will be living in.

JF: How is The Dirty Show® different from other erotic art shows?

JV: A lot of erotic art is about being “sexy” or “sensuous.” But erotic art can be really boring. Some of the dullest shows I have ever seen are erotic art shows. A lot of erotic artists have little or no imagination. That’s not what The Dirty Show® is about. I happen to like creepy and fucked up. I really like retarded and stupid. I also like funny. Humor is a huge part of art. I would love to showcase Paul McCarty’s Giant Butt Plug, de la Haba’s Equine Maximus, or any of the dirty stuff Koon’s did. The only thing funnier than the art itself is the fact that people might actually buy it for exorbitant sums. The art world is as phony as wrestling and that is probably what I love the most about it.

JF: The Dirty Show® has been running for twelve years. During this time the show grew to be the largest art exhibit in the metro area, and was even pronounced “a Detroit Valentine’s Day tradition.” One might say that the margins have folded into the center. Is there an alternative to alternative art?

JV: Landscapes?

JF: Earlier we talked about how Detroit is a place to create art, but it isn’t a place to sell it. Would you say that there is a common theme or shared aesthetic in erotic art born from Detroit, or throughout Detroit art in general?

JV: Besides an excess of nudity in rotting ruin settings, not one I can discern. There are people like Kristine Diven–who have been doing it quite a while–and with some kind of meaning. Then there are some who don’t really have anything to say. They shoot, but it doesn’t mean anything. Detroit is really getting an excess of erotic artists–photographers especially, thanks to DVS running the Detroit Erotic Arts Collaborative (DEAC). Detroit has answered this call to eroticism yet. The nearby suburbs have. (There was no way I was going to be lured down that path. Tangents and questions regarding the finality of suburban eroticism should be relieved in the comments section)

JF: This year The Dirty Show® hosted a debut for a new all-female group of erotic artists, The Society for Women in Erotic Art Today (SWEAT). How does The Dirty Show® bode with the feminist art community?

JV: I have no fucking idea.

JF: Why did you invite SWEAT to debut at The Dirty Show®? Has there been an imbalance of male and female authored art in the past?

JV: The founder, Lisolette Gilcrest, approached us. She asked if they could debut. It was a no-brainer.

JF: I have never been able to fully come to terms with the notion that feminist or female-authored work is significantly or inherently different from non-feminist or male-authored work. Especially in the alternative genre.

JV: You got me there. I never thought about this and I don’t ever plan on doing so.

JF: I felt that the SWEAT pieces were indistinguishable from the rest of the exhibit. It was very much in the tradition of The Dirty Show®.

JV: Traditional of the Dirty Show®, but not traditional of erotica. Nor is it traditional of the erotic cliche of airbrushed, silicone-enhanced, Barbie Doll women photographed by bottom-feeding, middle-aged men—which, by the way, makes up the bulk of submissions to the show. I am not saying we don’t have any of that at The Dirty Show®, but we are attracted to art that is a little less pedestrian than what you might find in a men’s magazine.

Any kind of erotica is always going to be dominated by renderings of attractive females because that’s what artists like to paint, shoot and sculpt. Hard dicks are considered obscene, and limp ones are not considered erotic. Women buy pictures of women. Male subjects–even those with big titties–don’t sell a fraction of what female subjects do.

JF: I don’t see evidence that the theme was well explored.

JV: I disagree. I have seen bigger shows with less diversity. It is one of the more well-rounded erotic displays I have seen, and a fantastic debut. Most of the SWEAT artists would have made it past our jury on their own, and a few have been in past shows. The very fact that all these pieces are done by women is now being overlooked. SWEAT, like the Dirty Show®, can only display what is submitted.

JF: When feminist art presents itself to me, I look for something familiar, recontextualized in a way that challenges me or defies social standards or assumed values.

JV: Well, not every piece of erotica does that. And most of the art hanging in the DIA doesn’t do that either, does it? And if all art did do that, I bet we would end up with one boring, ugly show.

For Dirty, most pieces are chosen for technique–the basic elements of light, shadows and composition. We might get a few provocative pieces in every show, but contemporary art has been going on so long it’s no longer contemporary.

Art easily suffers from pretension and audience-conscious over-thinking. I guess the scholar types want to cock block any challenge to their empires. They try to make art about emotion, but it’s usually bullshit emotion–Emotionless people who write bullshit papers for bullshit teachers in bullshit schools. They make it more about seeing how smart they are rather than what the work is actually about.

If there was a corner, he’d totally be trying to put me in it.

JF: So do erotic artists privilege the body at the expense of the mind, or does it force the viewer into some extreme Cartesianism or something? Is it the curators who are void of intellect? Or does the genre “cock block” any stimulation that isn’t directly physical? (after that outburst, I couldn’t not reference a French philosopher)

JV: I’m not saying you can’t have an emotional or intelligent piece. But it’s not easy. Or even necessary. And people can tell when you are faking it.

Talent, however, is impossible to fake.

JF: Last year you took The Dirty Show® on national tour. Do you plan to travel again this year?

JV: I think so. The world is ripe for domination.

Colm McCarthy. Damned III. October 2010.

photos by mark tucker

  • http://www.dvsdetroit.com DVS

    Thanks for the DEAC slam! ?

    Hey, weren’t those photos taken at DAMNED III? @_o

    haha

    • http://janefader.com Boss Fader

      Ha! I was actually unsure about whether or not that was a slam, too. The way I did the interview was really schizophrenic–a mix of email, text message, Facebook message and telephone. This question was an email question, so it leaves much to be interpreted.

      Bridgett Ritz and I talked a lot about the DEAC last Sunday and the way she described it made me feel very happy that it exists! She said that the DEAC provides an environment of trust (since there is a screening/vetting process to participate) and that working in that environment and with the DEAC community is so comfortable that they create better art because they feel more free.

      I wish that I had a modeling, photography or makeup skill so I could participate with you guys sometime. I only have these six pounds of gummi fried eggs (sunny side up) I’ve been trying to do something with…

  • Toka313

    I was on the Facebook with Lisolette (we’re old high school buddies) and put in my take on this article and its opinion of the SWEAT artwork. Thought it was shareworthy if you were interested.

    She comes from a critical communication perspective. It’s funny cuz that’s the perspective I come from as well, but it’s not one that applies to your group I don’t think. I think that the fact that they are women artists is empowering, but not necessarily feminist per se. I didn’t see a requirement in SWEAT that the artist must be feminist, and even if it was, there are about 2 million different incarnations of feminism anyhow.
    Simple existence of the female artist is the challenge to the system that she should be looking for. The art itself does not have to be a part of that challenge. This is where I think she errs. [Edit: Although if the art is a challenge too, that means something too, it's just a bit onerous to require women to challenge every part of the system and demand success in what would be an uphill battle]

    She also comes from way too academic of an approach to art while neglecting aesthetics. Even the French authors she would mention wouldn’t disregard that.

    Just my take. I do understand where she’s coming from, I just think they way she does it is exclusionary. [Exsclusionary to a point where fighting the battles will leave women marginalized on the outside of the system they try to challenge]

  • http://fatfeministactivistartist.wordpress.com/ Brenda Oelbaum

    Wow…my piece was part of the S.W.E.A.T group…actually I would never have entered it because I didn’t particularly think of it as “Dirty”..but I was able to justify it when Lisolette said it got in, by the fact that the diet industry is a dirty business. I don’t think you were really looking for the art in there…or the intellegance…that’s kind of sad really. I also had a very small piece accepted outside of the S.W.E.A.T. group…S.W.E.A.T. opted not to show it in their area…I was told when the work was being reviewed it made Vile laugh. But as I hung around the show it was completely dismissed…you can reach saturation point very quickly. When something is too clever it gets lost in all the P, T and A. But I was so thrilled to get into this show…even if it had only been my wee dirty dish…being in the Dirty Show was more exciting then getting into a show in New York for me. It is a fabulous institution…and I only wish my work was Dirtier so that I could get in again. There is nothing anti-feminist in erotic or dirty pictures…but if you only look at the images and not the meaning behind them…you will never see the feminism. Yes S.W.E.A.T can play with the boys…but they don’t have to and I think it’s awesome that they included me in their debut.

    • jerry vile

      B= I think you have one of the very best pieces in the show- one of the best pieces in all the Dirty Show™s . Whenever we take off our clothes in front of others we are being dirty. Thankfully, we live in a repressed society that makes the Dirty Show™ possible. j

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  • http://WWW.MAYAGUEZPHOTO.COM Maya Guez

    Why does art by woman group need to “recontextualized in a way that challenges me or defies social standards or assumed values” in order to matter or be enjoyed? Just because there is a common denominator it doesn’t mean every piece needs to be political or feminist in its context. We are presenting a diverse female point of view of sexuality and artistic expression and i think it makes it more interesting to the viewer to see and enjoy the wide range of styles knowing all the work presented was created by different woman in different ages from all over the world…
    Even if the assumption by Jane is true that there is no real visible difference between the female artists work to the males – if you really think about it its just as interesting and empowering to know there is no difference between male and female perspective of sexuality and by that enabling a discussion that “challenges social standards” lol. with so many people crying about exploitation and objectifying woman for the mighty dollar I am happy to have woman coming together to promote erotic art from a position of power, self awareness, choice and business minded it can never be degrading or exploitive when u are the ones holding the rails…..

  • Mark Tucker

    I am not impressed. This entire article is the high brow wanking of a pompous intellectual who professes to support local artists, but refuses to give photo credit. Jane Fader, honor our agreement. I’m the photographer. I provided pictures of you and Mr. Vile (DVS- yes, they were taken at Damned III) for your blog article, at no cost, with the simple request of photo credit, which has not been honored even after reminding. This leads me to believe your support of local artists is mere lip service. Actions speak louder than words. Supply me photo credit or remove my work.

    To eliminate any confusion: Photo credit MARK TU©KER

  • Jerry Vile

    A lot of these answers were probably taken out of context, longer answers and I swear there are things that seem to be the complete opposite of what I said, but to be fair Jane mentioned several times that my replies were contradiciting myself (but -how could I?- when I can’t even spell it!). It’s like this, when someone is interviewing you, the bullshit flows off your tongue like honey out of a bear’s ass. Why would one pause to think when they are getting attention- from someone with a pad of paper no-less- writing down the gibberish you spew?
    I tell you- any journalist who uses a pad of paper- ALWAYS misquotes the asshole they are talking to, however lovable. Even with a tape recorder, you have to misquote people as the words don’t sound right if you transcribe what is said- especially someone who might not complete thoughts or sentences.
    As a former publisher, I can attest, the most important thing is not getting it right, it is getting it done. It does not matter- if anyone should be mad, it should that lovable asshole who was misquoted. I had longer answers, but a writer gets to pick just the good stuff. I know what I meant to say, I just figure I didn’t say it right and now I am reaping what I sowed for years as a writer. I have spent many hours hearing complaints and lavishing false concern about the stuff I published – at best it elicited a “Big Crybaby” after the phone was cradled.
    Anyhow, all this for something that will be forgotten the next day when it is thrown away with the days rubbish. Oh damn, this is the internet, it lasts FOREVER!
    So, just to clarify a couple things- very few artists call themselves erotic artists. They are artists. If you ONLY do erotica, you had better be pretty damn good OR you will be living in your parents basement.
    There was some stuff I said about, I guess I would have to call it mediocre erotica. I think that is where there was something I said, that I had thought I said the opposite thing. Like a “not” was missing. And it kind of blended into the ruin porn thing, which blended into porn in ruin porn, which then blended into a thing about Detroit artists in general. These were longer discussions, but this is not The Playboy Interview and it was somehow all compressed into a thing that seemed to piss off some people.

    Basically I’m saying Detroit has more artists working in erotica than other cities might – because of the Dirty Show® and rather than bogart ALL the credit for Dirty, I name-checked the DEAC, mainly, so I would not look like a glory hog, and meant no slight because if I was going to slam Anthony, I would choose a more cowardly way, such as graffiti in a restroom or gossiping with an ex, rather than a public forum such as a blog.

    Finally, there is this whole feminism thing with SWEAT. I think Jane was referring to the fact we don’t pay women artists the same as men artists. They get 15% less on average because they don’t have a penis, which is industry standard in every gallery and museum. I guess some bra-burning kooks see this as a sexism- rather than sexy.

    I wanted to hang a self-portrait of myself, wearing nothing but a TOWEL, titled “For The Ladies”, but I couldn’t. Because I can’t be in the Dirty Show®, because I have to pretend that I have ethics. So if that is not a blow to feminism, than I don’t know what is.

  • Mark Tucker

    The soul stealing beast reared his ugly head when denied credit. He snapped and clawed and caused quit a self righteous ruckus. Now cherubs float above, beholding olive branches, basking us all in humbling, heavenly after-glow light, happily pronouncing peaceful resolution. I’ve been given proper photo credit and all is again right with the world, until the next omission.

    I must admit that I was surprised to see my angry comment posted. This is a big step towards peer review of your scholarly work Jane Fader. I am impressed. This is a small town, and it’s only getting smaller. Hopefully we can resolve any future issues in a more professional and efficient manner. Numerous private and then public messages were relayed both on facebook and here on your blog to finally find a resolution that was easy to fix in wordpress. But there’s always the possibility that Jane Fader has taken a page from Jerry Vile’s playbook and learned that in business, controversy sells. This conversation is one sided because the ubitquitous JF remains silent, so I will not go that far in my credit to her, but the possibility remains.

    My favorite Jerry Vile line from the article; “Art easily suffers from pretension & audience-conscious over-thinking.” Albeit a small town, there is room for fun erotica and the scholarly pricking of such work. I love the dichotomy of this reality. Hail to the productive pervs and the brainiacs who question them. Viva la Dirty Show and all it’s progeny.

    Hey Jerry- if you want your towel only portrait done for the next Dirty show, I’m game, but to avoid concerns about the legitimacy of the dirty submission jury, it might be better to save this work for exhibition in DVS’s Damned IV show.

    BTW- There is a Detroit art culture, but I digress…

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