Jerryvile is one of those guys who looks like he’d just as soon kill you as talk to you. His eyes are startlingly intense and his voice as gruff as a bear gargling glass. But that’s not the real Jerry Vile; don’t tell anyone, but the Dirty Show curator-organizer is gentle and, honestly, really sweet.
It’s like somebody put an intellectual brain into a retired pro wrestler.
This year sees the 14th Annual Dirty Show take place at Bert’s Warehouse in Detroit during the week surrounding Valentine’s Day. Of course, that means that the timing is perfect for our own Lust issue, so we had a chat with Vile about this year’s show.
The Dirty Show, for the uninitiated, is an erotic art show that includes paintings, photography, sculpture, performance art and everything in-between. Everything is centered on sex (of various sorts) — the show is very much for adults only — but somehow the whole thing retains an aura of class. This is an art exhibition, not a porn convention.
This year, the centerpiece of the show is an exhibit by Puerto Rican artist Gregory De La Haba called “Equus Maximus,” which includes three dead, stuffed horses around a craps table in Vegas headdresses about to get down to a three-way. Take a minute to let that soak in…
“This thing is so big, he has to knock down a wall for his people to get this thing out,” Vile says. “We have to knock down a wall to get it in. It costs a fortune to ship, and we have to lower our numbers of people that can fit in because of the floor space it takes. We’re not a dance — we can’t put people in nut-to-butt. To me, this is an incredible piece of art and no museum could show it if they ever want to get any sort of endowments or patrons. It’s like a menage a trois, but they’re not really touching each other. They’re about to. Erections and spread legs. He sculpted the genitals.”
Getting De La Haba to bring his horse orgy to Detroit has been no easy task for Vile. “I’ve been working on him for years,” he says. “Somebody told me about it at the Dirty Show that we had in L.A. at the City Center Motel the first time we were out there around our 10th anniversary. It stopped me. Like, I couldn’t think of anything else. He didn’t know the artist’s name, so I’d keep calling him week on month. I’d Google ‘horses’ and a few swear words, and you can imagine the horrible stuff I got back.”
Vile swears that the artists didn’t pose these horses in fuck-position for shock value. “When people see it, they’re blown away,” he says. “I was blown away just hearing about it. I have probably seen as much erotic art as anybody in the world, not only through Dirty but I kind of look at different artists at other shows too. I see too much erotic art. I’m always looking for something completely different, and I always find something. This I wasn’t even looking for because it was so outside of the scope of my imagination. This made my imagination a little bigger. Why doesn’t everybody in the world know about this guy?”
Quite. At $500,000, “Equus Maximus” will have to attract the attention of some deep-pocketed people with a huge house before the artist is a household name. “Hopefully somebody will buy it,” Vile says. “We know 50 Cent can afford it. It’s a half-mill, which is a steal for what it is. You have to look at the art prices of big artists. If he becomes one of the big artists of our time, the thing will be worth multiple millions. De La Haba is an incredible painter. I see hints of Caravaggio in his strokes. He’s got a really good artistic pedigree. You can trace his paintings back to the 15th century. The person who taught him was taught by somebody else amazing, and it’s been coming down for centuries.”
So who else is at the show this year?
“There’s a very cool performance artist from New York called Coralee Lynn Rose,” Vile says. “She’ll be out for one weekend or the other. She does nothing. She holds a position forever, like for two and a half hours. That’s probably harder than lifting weights. She was here one year, and she spent the entire evening crawling across the floor of the gallery, moving ever so slowly. She travels all around the world doing stuff like this. This is her art. We’re like this big pot of honey, attracting all these erotic bees. This year, she’ll be seated at a table and she’s gonna have a headphone jack connected to a telephone. You’ll be able to pick up this telephone and hear her thoughts. That’s the gist of it.”
Bizarrely enough, one of the other big attractions this year involves the Golden Girls and, more conventionally, Playboy. “This year, we have Olivia de Berardinis,” Vile says. “She’s been doing the one-page illustration in Playboy since 2004. She’s known for her exceptional work. Playboy may not be as important as it used to be, but they still have the same standards. People get her art inked on their bodies. The other thing we have this year is ‘Golden Gals Gone Wild,’ which is Lenora Claire and a show she curated in L.A. and Miami, and these were smash shows. She got on TMZ, MTV, NBC and all of the printed publications with this stuff. It’s Bea Arthur and Betty White erotica. That’s how we got Olivia. Lenora told her that we’re not a porn convention, because Olivia doesn’t do them. I’m not a fan, but I’m surprised how many fans there are of the Golden Girls. Lenora’s first ‘Golden Gals Gone Wild’ was just before Betty White took off, and I don’t know how much it had to do with it, but she didn’t hit a nerve by accident. If Betty White didn’t blow up afterward, I wouldn’t know who she was, but I can name people who have been in TV shows I’ve never seen in my life better than I can name presidents.”
Of course, burlesque plays a big part in the Dirty Show attractions onstage. “This year, we have Roxi Dlite coming back,” Vile says. “She was Miss Exotic World a couple of years ago, which means that you’re the best burlesque dancer in the world. She can mesmerize an entire audience. During her spot, pretty much everyone there is transfixed on her. We have the Stage Door Johnnies, which are male burlesque from Chicago. These guys are so hypnotic on stage. If burlesque is truly an art, these guys are at the top of it. They move unlike anybody I’ve ever seen on stage. I can’t take my eyes off them.”
Male burlesque performers might polarize popular opinion, but Vile is OK with that. Such is the appeal of the Dirty Show in 2013 that Vile is happy to tell you not to come back if implied homosexuality makes you uncomfortable. “At the Dirty Show, the stage at least is getting more polysexual,” he says. “The gayer, the better. If people don’t like it, then they don’t come and the crowd’s better. We have DeAngela Show Shannon, who’s this 6-foot, 6-inch transsexual with these huge, watermelon-size knockers. She walks on stage, dresses outrageously and is almost terrifying in her aggressiveness. She’s a local too.”
That’s the spirit of the Dirty Show right there. Vile and his crew don’t pander to anyone. If you don’t like the erotically charged art, fuck off to another gallery. In this economy, with other curators desperately trying to widen their appeal and pull people in, you have to admire that mentality. “If people don’t come back, it just leaves more room for people who are more fun,” Vile says. “Tickets are going better than ever. This is the first year that we’re raising prices in years. This is the 14th year. For the 15th year, all stops will be pulled out. We’re so big now. We do sell out, and then we let people in at 7 p.m. We don’t lower our price. We don’t want a second crowd to deal with, especially later at night when people are drunk. We’re really protective of this art. We can’t let this exhibition turn into a dance. It’s not wallpaper, it’s art. We want people to do what you do at an art opening, which is just talk and mingle. I’ve heard of people who have met their spouses at the Dirty Show. We’re 53 percent female friends on Facebook, to 47 percent male.”
The Dirty Show isn’t the first celebration of erotica ever to be held in Detroit, but it’s certainly the biggest and, unlike other events, it manages to maintain dignity and not transform into a big swingers fest by the night’s end. Vile says the reason for that is simple: “We don’t have dancing. People do more with mind power and conversation. We don’t have dance DJs and a band when every other venue open that night will have that. I celebrate the sleaziness. It’s so tongue-in-cheek, people can laugh at it. People have gotten a little overexcited at the Dirty Show though. It’s like, ‘I’m sorry ma’am, you have to take that cock out of your mouth.’ The swingers have some sort of orgy Winnebago parked outside.”
As long as you keep the fucking to the car, everyone’s happy.
With life-sized horse threesomes, Playboy illustrators and the Golden Girls all blessing Dirty Show 14, this year’s event seems a million miles away from the first Dirty Show, which took place in a room above the offices of the now-defunct Orbit magazine. “Too many people showed up, for the size of it,” Vile says. “The next year we made it two nights, and then we had two nights of too many people showing up. Then we moved, and too many people showed up to that. We moved to the Museum of New Art, and that’s the show where we really sensed a big change. We weren’t prepared for it. We were just trying to get donations for the beer and wine, and we were giving the wine away. We realized we didn’t have to let people in for free and we started selling tickets. It took us the longest time to learn to prepare for what we got the year before. It was always bigger.”
Such is the success of the Dirty Show that Vile is always looking for new ways to expand it, whether that be holding an additional event halfway between the big shows, or taking it on the road to other cities. A Dirty Tour is still a possibility but, after canceling last year’s Dirty Show 13.5, the half-year show is off the table. “When we look back, the half-year show has always been way less than the Valentine’s show,” Vile says. “Everything was going wrong last year and we realized that, if people went, they would say that the Dirty Show is not so great. If we can’t do a better job, or at least equal to what we did the year before, then we shouldn’t be doing it. We’ll never do the half-year show again. We’re trying to find the right spot in L.A. to do it this year. Somebody in Chicago called me and it looks like we’ll be doing Chicago really fast. Bigger than the Orbit office shows, but starting out more like that, just with way more international connections. There are very few in the world of erotic arts that we haven’t had at the show.”
That’s the Dirty Show, then. If you haven’t been before, please treat yourself this year. Take your significant other if you have one, or fly solo. It’s unusual, bizarre and wacky fun, but there really is nothing to fear.
“People walk away with little bits and pieces that they then talk about at work,” Vile says. “That’s how we get our crowd. I also have a theory that erotica is like punk rock was. It’s kind of underground, but it’s becoming more and more accepted. There’s a buzz for it. I think in the future, every major city will have its Dirty Show.
One can dream.
The Dirty Show takes place Feb. 8-16 at Bert’s Warehouse; 2739 Russell St., Detroit; www.dirtydetroit.com; tickets are $25.
Brett Callwood writes for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org