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Big Dicks Mostly Unfulfilling

Posted by Japhet / September 29, 2007

20070928_instruct.jpgHere's a recipe for a quick and easy art show:

Take a slightly-naughty theme, gather a bunch of submissions that kind of relate, you know, in an ironic way and secure a venue where you can play the music loudly and serve the booze cheaply.

Hopefully the venue will come with a crowd of pretty young exhibitionists and, of course, all of your friends will show up so everyone should have a pretty good time. Big Dicks and Barbie Dolls, a recent show at Spin Gallery, was a terrific party but what about the art?

Sexuality and pop culture have always been favored topics of the artist and in my time at OCAD, I saw a lot of bad art and even some good stuff exploring that theme. This show is no different. Some of it was alright but a lot of it was, in the words of a participant who wishes to remain anonymous, "juvenile" and I would have to agree.

As usual, illustrations ruled the show, at least technically if not conceptually. The rampaging cock creature was cool and detailed enough to be visually stimulating if nothing else but was also emblematic of what was wrong with the show as a whole.

With the exception of the glass jar full of chewed-and-spat-out cyber sex conversations, I can only assume there wasn't a whole lot of thought put into the majority of these pieces that didn't extend beyond a wink-wink-nudge-nudge reaction to exposed naughty bits. At least one artist decided to crochet her depictions of hardcore genitalia but when that kind of one-off is amongst the best-in-show, you're operating on a lower common denominator than this theme demands. Waxy naked women cavorting on a canvas reminds me of a t-shirt I picked up in South Carolina. It's not very interesting. It's not even arousing which is, I suppose, worse.
My favorite piece was the winged Al Bundy wearing a Viking helmet which was a bit more subtle and in the words of the immortal Mel Brooks, "rose below vulgarity." The painted cityscape at the entrance was also competent and would look really great in my hallway which is about the highest praise I can bestow on any work of art (leaving aside any discussion of the sublime which aside from Larry Clark's films, rarely features in work about sexuality anyway).

Frankly I'm tired of BJ shots, soft-core photos and other phallic imagery. You'd think no one ever read a porno mag or bought a novelty LP. This isn't to say that those two pioneers have said all there is to say on the subject (and god knows its getting more difficult for artists to do something interesting when they splash around in a small pond like Toronto, hanging out with the same people, consuming the same media and going to places like OCAD) but simply depicting these kind of things isn't good enough; you actually need to say something too. I also think there was a fashion show although it was more blink-and-you'll-miss-it than hot-n-bothered haute couture.
Mind you, I'm not of those close-minded folks who believe that depictions of pornography are degrading and coarsen any dialogue that might result but I'd appreciate a something a bit more challenging with my slice of sluttiness. How about a piece that explores what people bring into their digestion of porn via their own experiences? Or how about a questioning of gender identification beyond chicks with dicks? The possibilities are endless and not too difficult to arrive at; especially when you delve deeper into people's often-flippant answers to questions concerning how they perceive their sexuality and that of others around them.
Hell, anyone can find a bunch of tawdry videos at Suspect and project them on a wall (giving your own JPEGs a much-needed boost of credibility) but when are we going to realize that these superficial depictions are fluff and don't provoke any critical discussion of the theme, a cop-out that is all-too-common amongst younger artists?

For those of you looking for something with a bit more depth, I suggest checking out Nuit Blanche for Nightless City, a group exhibit that reimagines a strip of Church St. between Wellesley and Andrew as a red light district. Or for those of you who harbour unrequited crushes on high-school teachers from years past, head over to Hart House and you might be asked to slow-dance with one of the teachers. Copping a feel is encouraged of course.

So I didn't like the show but I did have a good time and I would be the last person to suggest that some poorly thought-out art got in the way of me having a good time. The music wasn't half-bad and it got a whole lot better when some dude got up on a box and started freestyling to some beats provided by the DJ. When I wasn't drinking two-fisted, I was dancing my ass off and with the tunes and a very-fine dance partner the art faded into the background which is where it belonged.


Photos courtesy of Roger Cullman



Carry / September 30, 2007 at 03:04 pm
Superficial statements are often ubiquitous when dicussing topics pop and porn. I have to mostly disagree that Nuit Blanche's Nightless City was any more stimulating than the Big Dicks party.

I was at a party the night after Big Dicks, <A href=""; target="_blank">The Lab Sessions 2.0: Idol Love at Labspace Studio</A>. True enough, some of the work was of a superficial vein but if one of your main issues with Big Dicks was that they " gather a bunch of submissions that kind of relate, you know, in an ironic way" then you really missed something. These guys put on an ultra tight show. I've seen much bigger organizations with less flow and style than this.
Japhet / September 30, 2007 at 06:26 pm
I didn't say that Nightless City WAS more stimulating than Big Dicks 'cos, at the time of the posting, I hadn't seen the former exhibit yet. In fact, when I did check it out last night, I wasn't very impressed with it either.

As for saying that they put on a tight show, what exactly does that mean and how does that relate critically? Are you saying they were organized and on-schedule? The hanging was adequate and beyond moving the opening a half-hour ahead, they were on time. Saying much bigger organizations (ahem... AGO) have less flow and style doesn't make most of the pieces displayed any better. Do you enjoy making excuses for mediocrity?
Carry / September 30, 2007 at 08:33 pm
user-pic apologies I think my last post was a bit ambiguous. I didn't mean big dicks was tight, it was crap. And I didn't mean you missed something in your article about that party. I meant that those who hadn't been to The Lab Sessions missed something in not being there.

The Lab Sessions was the tight party. And, yes, but that I mean many things. However, my primary point in contrast to the quote I pulled about Big Dicks was that Lab Sessions was curated well. The body of work presented by a diverse group of artists presented a cogent whole as opposed to Big Dicks.
Japhet / October 2, 2007 at 12:02 am
Ah, I misunderstood. Too bad I missed it.

I do think that Primary Colours has the potential to put together a good show.
tabi / October 3, 2007 at 10:40 am
It's fair to say that the art did not appeal to you, but I think you failed to mention (or perhaps didn't quite understand?) some of the best pieces. Sex is ingrained in our culture, whether you like it or not you are being hit with images of it daily and most of the time it fades into the background and becomes subliminal. This entire show was supposed to be based on that idea, that there is gratuitous sex everywhere but after a couple glances no one notices anymore. The art was art but also decoration. Also, you art a critic right? Doesn't that mean you have been to plenty of art shows? Shouldn't you then walk into a collective show knowing that everything is not going to blow you away? There were 30 artists to produce variety, so that everyone who was there saw at least 1 thing they really loved, how can you have the same ideas about art as 30 different people? I loved the waxy women you described, I thought it was titillating, extreme sexuality but so messy and deformed that it was almost grotesque, what a great comment on modern day sexual identity. I looked at the projections as more of an atmospheric event, how can you have a show called Big Dicks and Barbie Dolls and not have some porn on at some point? I would have felt cheated! All in all I think it was successful because everyone saw at least one provocative, thought provoking piece and everyone had a fucking amazing time.
Japhet / October 9, 2007 at 11:09 am
I didn't mention every piece but no review ever does.

As for the idea of repeated sexual imagery becoming subliminal, so what? I explicitly stated that merely presenting an idea is not enough; the best art often attempts to answer the questions it poses. Most people understand the use of sex in advertising; instead of it fading into the background, it should be forcing them to think outside of their box of preconceived notions on how things work.

As an art critic, I don't expect to like everything I see. In fact, I'm used to disliking up to 85% of the pieces I'm exposed to. The law of averages state that most forms of cultural production will produce detritus that nobody gives a shit about.

There were two pieces I liked (the Al Bundy illustration and the conceptual bit about chewed-up cybersex chats) but most of them were either average or worse in my opinion. If other people liked 'em, that's terrific but I thought the show was generally lacking and so did the people I talked to while I was there.

Like myself, they've done their time at OCAD when it comes to art theory and they feel justified in their opinion. No one has to agree with it but when you've studied enough history, you have less patience for seeing the same old ideas that may have been challenging in high school but are out-of-place in a contemporary gallery.

It's funny that you would bring up the waxy women 'cos that's a perfect example of what I'm talking about. The fact that I compared it to a crude t-shirt should give you some idea of the prevalence of that imagery in our culture but I can give you some historically-significant examples as well:

The sexually-explicit Nazi exploitation films (The Night Porter and Salon Kitty) coming out of Italy in the 70's (an inspiration for Caligula and themselves inspired by hardcore pornography) displayed sado-masochism, torture and other perversions within a framework of fascism that was all about the reclamation of power through alternative sexuality. In these films, power is about the restoration of lost potency through overcompensation (and in a somewhat-amusing tangent, a lot of artists do that when addressing sexuality in their work) and is actually a great joke on the fascist's official condemnation of "degenerate" art.

Hell, look at Rimbaud or the Marquis de Sade for some truly grotesque art! The waxy women may have spoken to your own ideas of sexuality and that's great but don't assume that that piece comments on some vague idea of a "modern-day sexual identity;" you're doing a disservice to the rest of us.

Lastly, projections as decoration were fine. The ones at the front were and the artist didn't consider them as work in themselves. My issues were with the piece on the side. I actually talked at length with that guy about his piece and nothing he said indicated it was anything beyond a piss-poor attempt to lend some credibility to his work with imagery he collected from rented videos.

But hey, at least we had a great time!
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