OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU)— Art is sort of imitating life in some filthy ways at a new San Francisco exhibition, but merely by coincidence.
With its depictions of brilliant glittery genitalia, themes of penetration and orifices aplenty, Joy Gallery’s opening reception over the weekend for the Lewd 2 art exhibition certainly lived up to its name.
Perhaps not for the puritanical at heart, the full title to the Bayview District show is, Lewd 2: Erotic Art of the Masturbators; a riff on an art book titled "Erotic Art of the Masters", which features Picasso’s graphic, latter-day drawing of a vagina just a couple of years before his death. The book sits on a table with a vase of roses in the gallery for your reference.
“I wanted it to be a fun and flirtatious environment, showing that sex can be fun and maybe push a few people a bit outside of their comfort zones,” wrote gallery owner and curator Heather Rosner of the second installment of her erotic experience.
Indeed, it may be out of the ordinary if you saw Roky Roulette, a male burlesque dancer, clad in a gold-sequined bikini brief, cowboy boots, a matching hat and few other accessories. He professes to be the “world’s only pogo striptease artist”.
He had just finished taking a ride on a giant phallus in the center of the room, mounted on a spring coil fashioned out of what used to be playground equipment by one of the artists. The free-spirited Roulette was playing the part, working the crowd and even making some young man blush simply by proximity.
Moments earlier, outside on the crowded-back patio, everyone seemed to be having a good time. The striptease show was in full effect.
I moved in for a closer look. Roulette was encouraging anyone to dance with him. I should note a different 'Rocky' (Rocky Angel, who had two paintings in the show) was on hand. The curator said he arrived in “patriotic face paint, a matching bodysuit and high heels.” By the time I saw him, he was fully exposed. Apparently caught up in the moment, he decided to disrobe, except for his shoes, and danced freely.
More than once, Roulette asked me to dance. "C'mon. Don't be shy,” he said. Not exactly interested in being part of the spectacle, I smiled, shook my head and continued to bob along to the music, which was fine. The atmosphere remained vibrant and another male spectator continued to put dollars in his briefs.
Back inside where art ranging from the surreal to grotesque adorned the walls, like a space landscape painting, a photograph of condom covered hot dogs, and even an embroidered piece of a woman thrusting nude on a palm tree, I told a friend about my experience outside.
She jokingly said "party pooper". I retorted "It's a new day and age," insinuating I don't have to give in to pressure. I didn't have to dance with a stripper if I didn't want to. The event pulled off being a sex positive atmosphere while remaining a safe space.
“I think it’s good to embrace fetishes like art,” Rosner wrote the day after the show.
There was no judgment. Artists were allowed to express themselves and embrace sexuality. Likewise, attendees were not shamed for any lack of participation.
I couldn't help but think about levels of discomfort, weaponized sexuality, predatory behavior and the coincidental fact that just a day earlier, comedian Louis C.K. had admitted to masturbating in front of women after he was exposed some 24 hours earlier in a New York Times piece by those who accused him of sexual misconduct.
This is not to compare what C.K. forced upon his victims to Lewd 2. There is no equation of fetish to sexual assault or misconduct. While that may have been his kink, those women had no choice.
When I heard that he admitted to his wrongdoing, before reading his statement where he never actually says ‘sorry’, I thought, ‘Oh that’s refreshing. At least it’s not another denial,’ like in GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore’s case. In one instance, Moore is accused of sexual contact with a 14-year-old decades ago. Meanwhile, he seeks to fill Alabama’s Senate seat, vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but even Mitch McConnell is saying he should step aside.
After reading C.K.’s statement, I read a tweet that’s been re-tweeted nearly 7,000 times by Buzzfeed’s Abid Anwar. I realized how empty and self-centered the so-called apology came across. To paraphrase (in much less explicit terms, since we’ve already pushed those boundaries) he first wrote assuming C.K.’s point of view:
‘Sorry I whipped [it] out and masturbated in front of you and then covered it up for years and tried to make it go away, but now that it's very public and I lost out on money, I am very sorry.’
Then he wrote from the viewpoint of everyone who loved his statement, adding his own disparaging label to the group. Their response:
‘THIS is how you apologize.’
And he’s right. He is losing out on so much money. Like Netflix dumping Kevin Spacey before him and Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein getting kicked to the curb (which opened the floodgates of almost daily celebrity predator outings and allegations); C.K.’s film “I Love You, Daddy” was scrapped, FX severed ties with him and he was edited out of an upcoming HBO benefit comedy special.
With every new sexual misconduct allegation, it’s probably time predatory men are made to feel uncomfortable or to at least question their behavior. Could this chiseling away at the monolith that is patriarchy be the onset that takes it all down?
While we wait to see, I suggest you challenge your own boundaries in a constructive way and check out Lewd 2 through Nov. 25. Step outside your comfort zone, though I can’t promise either Roky or Rocky will be there in the flesh.
Photo of Rocky Angel by Dallis Willard