- Terra Molengraff/Daily
By Matt Easton, Daily Arts Writer
Published February 14, 2013
A woman, her face underneath the shaft, licks a penis. An unseen man (well, sort of unseen) grips her neck. Highlighted by eye-catching lighting, this photograph greets everyone who enters The Dirty Show 14. Measuring at about three- or four-feet tall (the penis is approximately two — blown up, of course), the piece is titled “Choke”; perhaps named as such because the man chokes the woman, or maybe because she might choke on his dick? The artist was likely privy to both meanings. But, gingerly stepping into Bert’s Warehouse Theatre, I must say the photo lives up to its name in a profound way: It knocks the air out of you; it makes it hard to breathe. The giant penis leaves little doubt — The Dirty Show is dirty, proud and unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
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Introduced at the turn of the century, The Dirty Show is North America’s largest erotic arts exhibit. Strippers, rope binders, fetish photography, softcore photography, chains, cages, pole dancers, vibrating merry-go-rounds, watercolors of penises and vagina still lifes — you name it, the show probably has it. Twice a year, this wild potpourri of live performances, professional people-watching and interactive artwork blows up into a celebration of the human form — and the things it can do.
“I don’t think people realize they have shows of this scale,” says April Reed, a volunteer, as she leads me around the floor. “They don’t realize there is an erotic art show,” she pauses, “That goes a little deeper into the eroticism.”
Passing by the various pieces and exhibits, I begin to think that “a little deeper” might be a slight understatement. All manners of erotic expression line the walls, and barriers are set up to display even more art. Above the bar, which I regretfully gaze at (I seem to be the only one not drinking), stands a platform for rope binding. On it, a blindfolded man ties up a scantily-clad woman. The rope binds her hands behind her back, and she kneels in a sort of Child’s Pose. The woman smiles and glances at the crowd below. Across from her are soon-to-be-filled chairs and a glamorous stage.
A lively attendee shouts, “Dude, I thought it was a just vagina, but then someone said it was the Virgin Mary, and I was like, ‘Oh, I see it!’ ”
The discussed piece is a wine-cork portrait which, unsurprisingly, bears a strong resemblance to a vagina and the Virgin Mary. While this may not be art criticism at its finest, it still reminds me that each of these pieces inspires a dialogue between the artist and the viewer. Later on, a man in a leather skirt and hipster glasses gesticulates at a nude painting as he debates its “aesthetic sensibilities” and “contrasting colors” — for every person who gawks and smiles at the explicit content, there are two more who argue about the work. Porn never comes up in conversation because it shouldn’t. Most everything at the show is art, and the people here treat it as such.
Other notable pieces include “E2t Erotic Dessert Menu” by WOLVERINE (many artists use pseudonyms), which shows photos of various females’ asses covered in desserts (“Caramel Coated Apple Bottom” and “Sweet Cherry Pie” among others), and the giggle-inducing “Presidential Erections” by Marc DeBauch, a painting of Barack Obama ejaculating on the faces of Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney (who seem to be enjoying themselves). Where’s Biden? It’s a mystery.
Message-charged works exist as well, such as “T-Bone” by Haley Scott, and Gregory de la Haba’s “Equus Maximus.” The first is a steak-filled outline of a women having sex from behind — a possible damnation of the tendency to objectify women. The second, “Equus Maximus,” is the half-million dollar centerpiece of The Dirty Show.
A life-size black stallion rears on a poker table littered with chips in front of two white mares that rest on their backs.