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?
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