Hot, but not really. The Money Shot Twins are giving me shit because I stroll past their little alcove without stopping to finger their hole.
"Stick your finger in my hole ... are you a-fraaaaid?" coos Jaclyn Havoc through her best crimson-kiss power-pout. She swings a milk container full of cash at her pelvis as if it's giant cock. "Put your finger in my hole." She rocks her hips slowly, to and fro. She works her hair masterfully and tosses it back for my benefit with a perfect fuck-me coordination of head, neck and heavy-lidded eyes. A Temptations hit distends woofers in the bar's PA. Cigarette smoke twists into demons above the room's countless blurred faces. The Cocaine power-drink banners distract.
I keep moving forward, shoulder-to-shoulder with the crowd. Jaclyn chirps "fuck off" to my back.
And why not? That's as good an idea as any; this is the Dirty Show. I turn around.
The somewhat feral Money Shot Twins are matched resplendently in silver hooker boots, Valentine-y bodices, red, bend-me-over baby-doll skirts, heavy kohl and white fishnets. Just a pair of merry bottle-blond look-alikes with perky tits and cum splashes etched in milky makeup on their young, perfectly pristine faces.
Saraphina Marie, the kinder twin, puckers her lips and says, "What's wrong, don't you want to finger her hole?"
Turns out, the MS Twins are but comely CCS art students, barkering up a little Dirty Show dough while pimping their own cum-enhanced work in that magnified-comic book Lichtenstein style that hangs just behind them.
It's Saturday night and the cavernous Bert's Theater Warehouse is slammed for the latest version of the Dirty Show, that much-abhorred, much-adored "erotic art exhibition" that still makes stuffed shirts crow and common-folk woozy. What went from a beat-off start-up which wasn't curated as much as it was "begged" that drew mainly tubby beer-guzzlers to an international erotic showcase for artists from as far as Israel and Australia is fairly stunning. At 11 p.m. on a Saturday night, it feels like there must be 2,000 people here. There's a line from the ticket booth, through the lobby, and out the door past the valet parkers. These people cannot get in. (The Dirty could be the largest erotic art show on earth now, rivaled by similar ones in Los Angeles and San Francisco.)
Tonight it's a strip bar, carnival, art gallery and MySpace mash-up. The music is loud and the drinks flow. You can smoke. There's an air of outright joy. Oh, hallelujah.
The Dirty Show 2007 succeeds in creating a little world full of dark and funny sexual dynamics. When it comes down to it, American standards simply forbid this show to get really, really nasty (there's no shit-play, for example, no triple anal insertions, etc.), but Dirty creator Jerry Vile (ne Peterson) manages to evoke that precious aphrodisiacal quality through an air of softened and hardened decadence, a sense of artful sexual frolic and overt coital inanity.
"First, the Dirty Show is not that controversial," Vile says. "At least to the people who come. They have seen sex before perhaps a couple of them have even tried it. I, too, have heard sex was fun, which is probably the biggest reason people come to the Dirty Show ... it's fun. They tell their friends, who tell their friends, and that's why we are so fucking huge."
Vile launched the Dirty Show in 1999 in the offices of his winning but ill-fated Orbit magazine. Dirty was, intentionally or not, a bitch-slap to the mindset of the theory-based Detroit arts community. ("I have a like/no-like relationship with contemporary art. Contemporary art was great but guess what contemporary means now," says Vile.)
The Dirty Show wasn't without controversy; look to current MOCAD curator Mitch Cope for an example. Cope said in a 2004 Metro Times story that exhibits such as the Dirty are "the kind of stuff that perpetuates this kind of mediocre art world in Detroit. It could be good, but it's not ..."
"He quit the Tangent Gallery over the [Dirty's] rental," Vile snaps. "He was afraid it would rub off on him. Now he has the only salaried position at MOCAD so maybe he was right. Well, Dirty is everything someone like that would hate meaning we are successful with art.
"I really appreciate having MOCAD in the city," he adds, "even if I don't care for most concept art it does not require that much talent to produce. But it is way better than NOCAD. I never heard of most of the artists at MOCAD and from what I saw, I don't think art history books are going to remember them."
The 50-year-old (who's counting?) Vile wears a T-shirt and jeans. His thinning curls are a lusterless, greasy mat, his eyes dark, his mouth foul. He looks tired. He could be that "friend" of a friend who's up on your roof installing bootleg digital cable that gets all the porn channels free. But he's smart, driven and hardworking (he publishes the annual Essential Guide to Detroit) and is a master at disguising motives; you can't tell how seriously he takes either himself or the Dirty Show. He litters his comments with self-deprecating asides.
Surveying the art hanging in the warehouse-sized theater, he says, "A lot of art lovers hate our name Joy Colby [longtime Detroit News art critic] always asked, 'Why do you have to call it Dirty?' We think our name is a charm; it magically keeps away the people who aren't any fun. All art suffers from 'we've seen it before ...'"
Beyond the Money Shot Twins, Saturday's show is crammed with a microcosm of Detroit folk all colors, sizes and sexual orientations, fat, skinny, short, tall, queer, straight, old, young, ugly, lovely, disfigured, drunk and sober. A few packs of can't-get-laid mooks with Marine cuts wish on handfuls of curved women in various states of disrobe. At least two attendees roll in wheelchairs. Suburban divorcees grind ass on new, younger boyfriends while staring at certain pieces something you don't see too often. Sculpted, shirtless gents and a couple in full-body PVC mill about, and above the room's main bar a porn reel loops; right now it's male-on-male sucking and fucking.
A woman of 60 or so in a fur cap and shocked expression holds her coat tightly to her belly as she steps carefully from one piece to another. Through her eyes we see a fresh view into an idea of what can disturb, provoke and make one lose sleep. Arm in arm with her gray-headed hubby, who smiles wryly and shakes his head slowly at each viewing, she navigates through the throng.
Inside the huge room, more than 300 pieces of art (paintings, sculpture, photography, etc., juried down from more than 2,000 entries) hang in clean aesthetic lines for quick and easy viewing.
There's the played-out and obvious (example: Rich Ayers' "Stairway to Heaven" photograph depicts an upshot of a woman stepping up stairs wearing black fishnets; that's so Buttman circa 1990!). Eyeball vaginas, big dicks and dilated squirting pussies, reside in a weary launchpad of Helmut Newton or Robert Mapplethorpe ideas.
When it's good and the show has many great pieces it's closer to Egon Schiele in spirit than Max Hardcore. It's not the stupid, ugly porn sort of nastiness; rather, there's a sophisticated filthiness.
The Dirty showcases names too, such as 90-year-old Detroiter Pablo Davis (Kleinbordt) whose lovely and graceful oil on carbon depicts a man fucking a woman standing up. The piece was done, Vile says, in 1954. Davis worked with Diego Rivera on the "Detroit Industry" murals at the DIA.
And Swiss surrealist HR Giger's prints of sex-machine schtupping is ripe commentary on industrial age and (now) Internet dehumanization.
Sure, women are objectified and pedestalized. So are dudes. Men are pissed on, laughed at and smothered under huge female ass. Grand Rapids' Melissa Arpin Duimstra's mixed media on wood shows a nude woman in boots on her elbows and knees surrounded by sketches of dogs, some licking chops.
Anatomical worship as high art? Screw that. Berkley, Michigan's Henry Birdseye's wall hanging is a fetching construct of countless single-dot Legos. Yes, Legos. And it's a crowd fave. From 20 feet back, the toy bits combine deceptively to resemble an image of a female backside on a TV screen. Only upon closer inspection does it become clear that the lines and colors are designed from tiny Lego pieces.
Vile says the biggest complaint about the Dirty Show is that not all the art is good. "You ask 10 people and you will get 10 answers what the art is," he says. "When art is stripped of its identity and has to sell on its merit rather than the artist's name it ain't as pretty and certainly isn't important. But I guarantee you most people would call Picasso crap if it was just hanging there without a brass tag telling them it's a Picasso. It takes balls to call something art if you get enough people to believe it, then it will become art. And if enough believe, you get rich."
The promoter won't divulge show economics either, but says that now, after eight years, the Dirty's finally grinding out a profit. Do the math: at $20 a pop, a line out the door and the room is packed. Vile is holding the show over for another night, this Saturday, to accommodate those who couldn't get in on the weekend.
Here's the thing: Vile has the level of sensitivity to understand that the Dirty show isn't about porn, art or dirty sex as much as it's about investigating one's inner, deeper sexual flickers. There's something difficult to describe, too, about the shared sexual stimuli that can bring those flickers to the surface (including the conservative suburban soccer-mom-type who was not all that quietly begging her date to fuck her on the spot).
Vile wears a sort of porn-positive/Dirty Show 'tude on his sleeve but is loathe to attach any deeper meaning or significance to many of the pieces hanging or what they do to the audience. "Often, I think the shriek of public reaction to the pieces are more important statements than the work itself."
Wednesday, Feb. 14, and Saturday, Feb. 17, from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., 18-plus. Bert's Warehouse Theater, 2739 Russell, Detroit. For tickets and information, go to Dirtyshow.org.
Brian Smith is the features editor of Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.