In the weeks before the opening night of Detroit's Dirty Show, the show's founder Jerry Vile marvels at the longevity of the erotic art exhibition, which is now in its 20th year.
"I'm surprised I lasted that long," Vile says, who had a heart attack in 2017. "I got some stents in my heart now, so I almost didn't last as long as the show."
Vile threw the first Dirty Show above the offices of his former monthly magazine, Orbit. The small show was enough of a success that the next year, he threw another, and another, and the event continued to grow, moving to various locations throughout the city. By 2014, he had to move the show from its longtime home at Bert's Warehouse Theatre to the Russell Industrial Center's then-new exhibition space, where it has been held ever since.
In some ways, not much has changed. The show, which opened last weekend and continues Thursday through Saturday, still features a variety of erotic art, from paintings to sculptures to photographs and beyond. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the work at the Dirty Show runs the spectrum of sexuality, from sensual to raunchy and everything in between.
As in past years, there is a special guest artist. This year's is so-called "lowbrow" painter Glenn Barr, who is the first local artist to serve as the show's special guest, joining the likes of H.R. Giger, Bunny Yeager, David ern, Colin Christian, and John Waters in the tradition.
But Vile defends his choice of Barr, and not just because he didn't have to buy plane tickets to fly him in from out of the state or country.
"When we're looking at different candidates, we have to go, 'Are they bigger than Glenn Barr?'" Vile says. "Once you look at Glenn Barr as an artist rather than, you know, a Detroit friend, it's quite a different story."
A former background artist for Ren & Stimpy, Barr's fine art paintings helped put Detroit on the map when it comes to the Pop Surrealist movement, which was anchored by the likes of Juxtapoz magazine and Los Angeles' La Luz de Jesus Gallery. Barr's work typified the genre, featuring cartoonish yet noir characters and backdrops, with stylish femme fatales often featured front and center.
For the show, Barr has created a series of new works. Since his star has steadily risen, with work easily fetching thousands of dollars, Vile says Barr has also created a series of limited-edition prints for sale in the show's gift shop.
Other Dirty Show mainstays include the return of the "Daddyhole," a pop-up leather daddy bar, burlesque performances (see this week's interview with headline performer Dannie Diesel), bondage demonstrations, spanking booths, an erotic film festival, and more. Vile says the show will feature around 300 works of art, which he has found to be the sweet spot for the show.
This year there is a special Golden Girls themed mini-exhibition inside the show, Golden Girls Gone Wild. As far as other changes go, Vile says he and his crew have further tweaked the space at the Russell. The footprint inside the building is now a little larger. The pegboard walls for hanging art have been replaced with sturdier metal. This year, they're employing video mapping technology to project images onto the building, further enhancing the experience. Vile says they've also updated their lighting to LED, which uses a fraction of the electricity, so we now have a cleaner, greener Dirty Show.
"It just makes you feel a little bit better," Vile says.
At this point, Vile says his crew is a well-oiled machine, and the event has taken on a life of its own.
"We used to have to ask every single artist and person to be part of the Dirty Show, and now it just comes to us like a big sleazy magnet," he says.
"We finally know what we're doing," he adds. "So many years we didn't know what we're doing."
As the world turns, it's good to have traditions to look forward to, and the Dirty Show has certainly become one in Detroit. But as always, it's interesting to see the ways the world has changed outside of the Dirty Show.
"You know, we started in a time when 'golden showers' and 'shithole countries' and and things like that were not discussed by the daily news," he says. "Now we have to compete against a rapey Supreme Court Justice and a pussy-grabbing president."
One can only wonder what the world will be like in time for Dirty Show 21.
The Dirty Show runs from 7 p.m.-2 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 14, Friday, Feb. 15, and Saturday, Feb. 16; 1600 Clay St., Detroit; dirtydetroit.com; 21+; General admission tickets are $40, VIP packages available starting at $100.
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