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Art imitates porn in "Slippery Slope"

Sex is more than subtext in a group show at Woman Made.



I was standing in front of Vanessa Harris's video God Bless This Mess when a fellow gallerygoer stopped dead beside me. "Nude!" he said. I looked at the video, in which a woman's bare torso is smeared with frosting, sprinkles, and other assorted foodstuffs, and agreed that, yes, there was nudity there. As the video proceeded and the woman shook and slapped her breasts, my interlocutor exclaimed, "This is my favorite piece!"

The video, like my new friend's leering, might seem in somewhat poor taste—but surely that's intentional. It's part of the exhibition "Slippery Slope," curated by the artist and writer Robin Hustle, which "features work that recognizes and adopts pornographic aesthetics and conceptual models." Harris's video is not an accidental double entendre but an intentional single entendre. What the gallerygoer got is what she was giving to him.

In "Slippery Slope," the obvious is always obvious. Whether it's Alyssa Herlocher's Hot Log, in which a giant, detumescent cloth hot dog with spermlike markings on its surface flops on a cube, or Margaret Bobo-Dancy's cast-bronze Conch Critter, in which an eloquently gesturing hand, dusted with sparkles, springs out of a conch shell's orifice, the only subtext is that the sex is more than subtext.

You might think there'd be some friction between contemporary art, which is committed to being everything at once, and porn—which is committed to being one thing, over and over and over. Instead, the encounter between the two is joyous and fertile. There are breasts coming out of chandeliers, penises coming out of sunglasses, phalluses on dinner plates, rows of inky asses, and splooging paint splashes that both parody and replicate abstract expressionism's cocky exuberance.

Ruby Thorkelson's Spit Mixer perhaps best sums up the show. A strawlike tube sticks out of one side of a tall, standing board; on the other side, the tube curves down to a white base, where colors spread out as on an artist's palette. The piece is an obscurely functioning but otherwise obvious system for transforming bodily fluid into creative effusion. Like the show itself, it imagines that porn is art, that art is the world, and that the world is gross and ridiculous and sexy, swollen with meaning.

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