Writing about an erotic art show is, to say the least, a little tricky. One side will accuse you of pandering to smut and objectifying women. Then there are those who feel you're being too objective and lacking in liberal enthusiasm. Oh, and heaven help you if you fail to mention three (or thirty) Supreme Court decisions handed down since Lady Chatterley decided to get friendly with the help.
Well, to keep everyone "happy", we're resorting to journalism's time-honored formula of Who, What, When, Where, and Why. With apologies to Bud and Lou, however, we're putting What on first.
The Dirty Show, Detroit's annual Valentine's Day salute to romantic love and hormonal passion, is back to bring some much needed warmth to our city and hopefully add a little more spicy sweetness to your box of candy.
Never heard of the Dirty Show? Return with us now to the year 2000. Jerry Vile, energetic and erstwhile publisher of Orbit magazine, envisions an exhibit devoted to eroticism and (no less importantly) to the way such art differs legitimately from the stuff found in brown paper bags. He outlined it (yes, on a cocktail napkin), enlisted the help of Jeremy Harvey, Glenn Barr, and others, and then sent out a collective invitation to about a dozen Detroit painters. The first Dirty Show was a success, prompting neither apocalyptic tremors nor a raid from the police, and tentative plans were made to set up another the following year.
Flash forward now to the present day. Dirty Show XIII will take place once again at Bert’s Warehouse on February 10 thru 18. Over 200 artists and performers from here, from across the state, and from around the world are participating directly or indirectly. All this, in turn, brings us to Why.
Why should you go? You don’t have to – and should you do decide to go, you don’t have to like everything you see. But this eclectic, colorful, enthusiastic, and (yes) sometimes questionable exercise in artistic freedom is another reason to take pride in Detroit’s creative energies.
Now these words from acclaimed artist Glenn L. Barr.
You were the principal curator of the first show back in 2000. What was the town's reaction back then?
First, I was surprised by the number of artists who jumped at the opportunity to do something “dirty”. Second, we thought it only proper that everyone who submitted works had their works displayed - and I mean EVERYONE. It was an amazing cross-section of the very good and the very bad. Not only did I find that an interesting aesthetic, but so did the public. The opening was jammed and sales were great! The patrons who came, at least in my opinion, obviously wanted to see something they weren’t supposed to see – material that was labeled trash or “uncultured” art by the gallery elite. But that’s why we did it to begin with. It was supposed to be, trashy, vulgar, erotic and mostly funny! It’s been more successful and popular with every passing year.
There are art shows like DIRTY across the country and globe, but Detroit's seems to have struck the right note with practically everyone. How do you account for that?
Well, it’s very cold in February, but people still want to get out of the house! I don’t mean that to be facetious, but it really is part of the overall answer. A bad case of winter blues always makes you eager for something that’s fun. And what’s more fun than going to see a warehouse full of images that society says you’re NOT supposed to see - or even like, for that matter. Looking at art under any circumstances can be a voyeuristic ritual. That and … well, make no mistake, the Dirty Show has always had the spirit of a great Detroit party.
The average person can see almost anything these days and the definition of "eroticism" itself has become ambiguous. What is your definition - the one that guides you when you deliberately seek to capture this quality or theme on canvas?
Eroticism is and always will be subjective and what constitutes eroticism varies from person to person. Speaking as a painter, I think skin needs to be involved or an allusion made to a physical act that’s “dirty” or “naughty”. Above all else, there has to be a conscious striving to make the subject visually alluring or eye-catching - and THAT brings us full circle because almost anything CAN be perceived as visually alluring. I’ll bet that conjured up something in your mind, right now. Am I right?
(note: Yes, he’s right)
Several people who have followed you and your work over the years have remarked that your female subjects evince more strength and aggressive passion than your male subjects. Do you agree?
Yes. Let’s face it, the female of the species is always deadlier than the male. I find that women and their sense of - or lack of - social decorum and restraints makes them interesting and more challenging to an artist. And creating scenarios depicting strength and mystery is always good voyeuristic fodder.
Does the term "pornography" still possess any validity today in the context of either social expression or artistic intent?
The debate will never end so long as we have politicians. But what I wish to emphasize is that the Dirty Show is a gathering of 200 or more artists addressing a theme, not necessarily a social issue. Pornography is a business, not an art. If you accept and recognize that crucial difference, then the debate becomes a little more suitable for adult discussion.