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Visual arts

Notes of a dirty old man

Jerry Vile recalls some unforgettable moments from a decade of The Dirty Show

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Published 2/10/2010

He's been called a sexist pig and a trash merchant. He's also been called a visionary armed with a heightened sense of irony. Either way he's Jerry Vile (aka Jerry Peterson), storied organizer and mouthpiece of The Dirty Show, now one of the biggest erotic art shows in the world. He's also the former editor and publisher of Detroit's lamented Orbit magazine. 

For all the pans (and praise) Vile gets for his brash celebratory attitude toward "erotic art," and, specifically, The Dirty Show, he has, in the event's decade of existence, simultaneously taken the piss out of misogyny and misandry while at the same time honoring the spiritual, intellectual, hilarious and hideous sides of human sexuality, as seen through the eyes of artists, photographers and pornographers from around the globe. Are we attaching too much significance to the infamous Dirty Show? Nah. The event truly is a heady mix of the aberrant and the amazing in sex art; it stays hard in an era when porn is as ubiquitous and as seemingly played out as fast food. One major underlying theme is this: To keep sex interesting, it needs to stay dirty. 

Here, Vile, in his words, gives up some meaningful moments from his very own decade of Dirty. —Brian Smith


2000-01
(at the Orbit headquarters): It started in the new century, shortly after I sold my soul to Satan: An art show exploiting the world's oldest theme. 

We're all adults, right? 

We know sex is biological; it's so normal and necessary it should be mundane. But we all possess this puritanical DNA, the idea of the inescapable wrongness of our knowledge and desires — the very notion of "dirty." So "dirty" became the theme that was thrown out to a community of criminally talented and seriously fucked-up friends for exploration. Excessively attended, a beast was brought forth that night, though no one knew it at the time. Refreshments included hot dogs and donuts served au naturale. Adding an additional night didn't alleviate overcrowding, nor did the gooey dollar-store condiments that were spread out on a semi-nude body — a potent mix of sweet, savory and nauseating. Imagine our surprise when some hungry perverted patrons scooped the splooge up with stale crackers and swallowed. We got a few photos, which were a rarity at the dawn of digital cameras. A dominatrix donned a latex glove and gave her he-she slave a proctologic exam that both cleared and crowded an already over-packed room. I didn't see, but I smelled, the lingering stench of tranny juice.


2002-03
(Various locations): The roomy, raved-in Bankle Building, which, like a condom reservoir, overflowed. We started getting work from strangers, artists not in our speed dial, including some prison-produced S&M sketches, scary enough to even question prisoner release dates. In addition to the large, accommodating white sugar walls, and the bromide fumes of a bubbling hot tub — which had made things extra creepy, especially when we hopped in — it was the first time for revival burlesque (Spag), which, at the time, was very novel. 

MONA (Museum of New Art) would be the turning point of our exhibition and the start of the art-porn chestnut. 

With a huge space, lots of walls, gorilla girls and peepshow glory holes, the STDs were unleashed from Pandora's Box. We filled up with new artists, and many patrons with unfamiliar faces — a multitude beyond our belief. After all the shitty wine was swilled, people actually stayed. A bartender branded her ivory ass cheeks on a kerosene heater, and Dr. J saved the day. The show got a multi-page spread in Juxtapoz and, while we don't understand what we have, we do have something. With the bigger crowds came men with cameras and come-stains, they pretty much cock-blocked anything with tits, the flies in an otherwise perfect load of expression leading to a "No Unauthorized Camera Policy."


2004-6
(At the Tangent Gallery): The MONA closes after our debut; we had nowhere to go. The Tangent's director was being a prude, but we shall overcome, and do, with connections and cash. He quits in disgust. We saw our first golden shower submission, an actual pissing pecker streaming in between the silver-braced teeth of a model — made all the better when we saw the photographer's wife's shiny smile. Performers and dance troupes came to us, but we relied on audience participation. The "Dirtiest Person in Detroit" competition is cancelled when one overzealous contestant goes wild — one ass-licking asshole. Erotica starts coming in from all over the world, including famous erotic artists and lowbrow superstars. 

I am now a father. I vow to pay lots of attention to my daughter so she does not end up in a photo in a show like ours when she grows up. 


2007-9
(At Bert's Warehouse): It has now become a job, and we can no longer do it completely shitfaced. Months of prep and no more temporary art walls utilizing found flooring and the shittiest two-by-fours in America. There's a stage that allows the audience to see more than the tops of the people's heads who are standing in front of it. A pervy version of America's Got Talent, a clamidia chowder of acts ranging from amazing to horrendous — we can't help but stare. Word has spread like penicillin-resistant clap, first-timers tell their virgin friends who tell hairdressers and the lady at the checkout counter. We start seeing passports and try to figure how much a fucking euro is worth in American. We are now being called the largest erotic art show in the world.


2010:
Our 10th anniversary; simultaneous openings in Zurich, Vancouver and Sydney give us triple-penetration, but Detroit is the holey land. Unchecked malignant growth has turned the exhibit into a spectacle of shameless abandon. Aerial acts, girls on swings, go-go boys in cages, the cubed art wall is topped off with a stripper pole, peep shows and puppets, and an 8-foot-tall penis spins. The stage whines with priapic performance art, some uncharacteristically rehearsed. The hype and hoopla threaten to overwhelm the exhibition, but the art continues to moan for itself.


2011:
I meet Larry Flynt at the Hustler Club, the new sponsor for The Dirty Show®. The same hands that created Hustler Magazine shakes the hand that used to masturbate to it. Mr. Flynt is a hero of course; his first amendment cases allow us to continue our wicked ways. No doubt this will refuel the art vs. porn debate.


The Dirty Show X: Friday, Feb. 12, through Saturday, Feb. 20, at Bert's Warehouse Theatre, 2739 Russell St., Detroit; dirtyshow.org.

Brian Smith is managing editor of Metro Times. Send comments to bsmith@metrotimes.com.

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