By Jessica Carreras
What’s sexy to some may not be to others – but for ex-porn star Annie Sprinkle and her girlfriend, college professor Elizabeth Stephens, that’s what makes erotic art so fun and daring.
“‘Erotic’ is such a nebulous term,” Sprinkle muses. “People think erotic has to be in the genital area. If it doesn’t tweak your genitals, then it’s not erotic to some people.”
Sprinkle and Stephens are not those people. Their video, “Big Nudes Descending a Staircase,” features the two women, ages 52 and 47 respectively, walking down an elaborate spiral staircase – in the buff. “Why does erotica have to be young and blond?” Sprinkle asks. “Nothing against them, but what about us older, chubby girls?”
“We’re not skinny, and I could see some people thinking that’s not sexy,” adds Stephens. “It’s a little edgy.”
Risque as it is, their video and photo of the scene will be considered quite tame this weekend, when it will be exhibited at the Dirty Show in Detroit. Work from over 200 artists will show visitors ev-er-y-thing. From abstract renditions of naughty bits to S and M masterpieces, erotic art will cover the walls of Bert’s Warehouse Theater starting this Friday and running through Feb. 16.
For local artist Ric Brown, the exhibition is a chance to show off his photography: Tasteful black-and-whites of men with chiseled muscles that lend themselves to the shadowy shades of grey. These are no blah B&Ws. At the Dirty Show, every rippling ab, bicep and, ahem, other muscle will be proudly on display. For Brown, it’s somewhat a departure from the usual. “I’ve been told that most of my work is erotic art,” he explains, “but it’s much more available to a wider audience.” That is, much of Brown’s art is for all audiences.
His photographs that made it into the Dirty Show bare it all, but Brown wouldn’t consider them vulgar. “They’re nudes, but they’re tasteful nudes,” he maintains. “To me, there’s a difference between naked and nude. Naked is when you get out of the shower, and nude is when you do it intentionally for artistic purposes.”
Others, however, like Chicago photographer Adam Kozik, whose hardcore bondage and fisting photos may make some blush and look away, are not for the sexually shy. But to Dirty Show creator Jerry Vile, who started the exhibition in 2000, it’s all art.
“We don’t judge the content,” he says of himself and his team, who chose the art out of over 2,500 submissions. “We judge the execution, talent and style. Other than looking out for underage models, we don’t censor.”
It’s good news for Sprinkle and Stephens, who admit that while not everyone is going to find their artwork sexy, some will see the beauty in it. “Fat women love it!” Stephens exclaims of previous showings of their piece. “There are very few sexy, fun images of fat women.”
“I’m sure some guys will go, ‘Well, that’s not sexy,'” Sprinkle shrugs. “But there’s going to be some queer women who will think it’s hot.”
Brown agrees. “Art is art,” he says. “Some think a man’s ass is porn, some think it’s art, some think it’s sexual. … It’s all contingent upon who’s looking at it.” And what better way to tickle everyone’s fancy than to have all kinds of erotic artwork from all over the world? Although there are a lot of local artists exhibiting at the Dirty Show, according to Vile, each year the show includes more and more art from outside sources. “I think we have art from every continent,” he boasts. “Except Antarctica, where it’s too cold. It must have something to do with shrinkage.”
Sprinkle and Stephens, for example, live in southern California – but their “Big Nudes” piece came from an art residency in France. They entered a gallery, stripped off their clothes and walked down the staircase, video camera in hand. It’s proof that art is where and what you make it, something that’s true for everything from classic Van Goghs to Sprinkle’s tit prints, where she presses her bare, paint-covered breasts onto a canvas. Though some might call these paintings silly, others have them hanging in their living rooms. “I get hot for conceptual art and things that are experimental,” Sprinkle gushes.
It’s an understatement for her and Stephens, who have made love inside of a bag while people looked on and held such out-there performances as kissing workshops and bosom ballets.
While artists like Brown find more-tame things sexy, like half-naked-men-in-nature shots, all the erotic artists agree that nothing is hotter than art that makes you think and turns you on – something there’s no shortage of at the Dirty Show. As Stephens put it, “What’s erotic to me is something that tickles my brain and my pussy at the same time.”
Bert’s Warehouse Theater
2727 Russell St., Detroit (in Eastern Market)