Lukewarm, Not Hot

"ARTundressed" at Damien B. ain't bad, but curators could have turned up the temperature.

The current exhibit at Damien B. Contemporary Art Center will leave you hot and bothered. Not because of the content of the show, though. "ARTundressed" features 57 works by nearly 50 artists and includes drawings, paintings, sculptures, and digital art, with the bulk of the exhibit fleshed out by photography.

Unfortunately many of the works are displayed inside a pair of storage containers situated in the gallery's parking lot. The steel enclosures are steamier than a Pittsburgh pig iron foundry in July. Even if you enter these sweltering tin cans with bottled water and a towel to mop up the sweat, the furnace blast that greets you is akin to sitting in a car with rolled-up windows and no air conditioning in the blistering South Florida sun.

One imagines the gallerist wouldn't submit himself to this torture, and wonders what drove him to believe the public would endure the torment for art's sake. "This is Miami. People are used to the heat, and no one has ever complained," the dealer explains. "No one here comes to exhibits during weekdays but mostly for openings [at night], when it's cooler, and to drink."

The answer might lie in the fact that Damien B. leased his larger, original gallery space to a personal trainer who has turned it into a gym. A gallery attendant explains the city has gotten strict with code enforcement, bottling the nonprofit into its current state of affairs.

This "art center," as it now exists, consists of the French dealer's office space and the pair of containers plopped outside. He argues all galleries have desks and that his operation is a "working space."

His office is air-conditioned and does boast a handful of interesting works, but this show and its presentation emit a distinct odor of ineptitude. And although Damien B. might disagree, the difference is obvious for all to see.

For example, the dealer could have moved his desk and shelves out of the modest office area to give it more of a gallery feel. Instead he chose to display Alisa Gabrielle's marble Communication Blocks, depicting a mouth and tongue, as if they were paperweights on his desk. It's easy to feel like an intruder when entering the main exhibit area and seeing the dealer fielding business calls.

This is the second incarnation of the show — sort of an "ARTundressed" lite, if you will. Originally the exhibition was staged to coincide with the book launch of The World's Greatest Erotic Art of Today, Vol. II.

Fritz Romeus, the publisher, organized a juried competition whose winner would receive inclusion in the tome. Hundreds of artists from 18 countries submitted a total of more than 1,400 pieces. Each artist paid a $20 nonrefundable entry fee. The winner was promised $5,000.

Romeus encouraged "art expressing every sexuality and subject matter — heterosexual, gay and lesbian, transsexual, fetish and alternative lifestyles," with a caveat. "We will not tolerate any works that include references to minors or bestiality, or depict violence," his website informed.

The jury included curators from erotic art museums as well as the gallery at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction. There were also writers, photographers, and Damien B. himself. They chose more than 250 selections for the book and exhibition, which were to be part of an erotic arts festival held in Miami during a three-day period this past May.

A whirlwind six-month "ARTundressed Exhibition Tour" was to travel to New York, Los Angeles, Amsterdam, Berlin, and London, the publisher's website claims.

For Romeus, Damien B.'s food stamp version might signal the end of the road. "I don't know if there will be a tour," the art dealer admits. "Fritz is broke. He is organizing all this by himself and is trying to get the show to Canada soon." Damien B. lists Erotic Signature, organizer of the juried competition, as cosponsor of his show.

Stacks of the publisher's hardcover book are piled on the dealer's desk. They run $60 a pop. It's obvious Damien B. eschewed the most provocative images for inclusion in his space. In the book, a work by Jeff Palmer, titled Release, verges on porn, the gallerist acknowledges. It depicts a nude, blindfolded man with an erection — whose nuts have been cinched with twine — ejaculating on his own chest. "Here I chose to focus on aesthetics rather than the strictly erotic," Damien B. says. "Not all the works held an artistic value for me."

The dealer saved the pick of the litter from the ill-fated tour to hang on the wall behind his desk. These include three photographs by Tim Dolph, a self-taught shutterbug who stormed the fetish scene in 2000 after snagging a camera off eBay.

One of his photos depicts three pinups cheating at a game of strip poker. Another image, My Mom Made Me Take This Class, captures a black-clad fetish ballerina crushing cigarette butts with the toe of her spike-heeled boot. She contrasts sharply with the three girls in pink ballet slippers and tutus she's sandwiched between.

Dolph's Sorry You Gotta Leave places a nude, blond cheerleader type on a counter stool at the neighborhood diner. A fry cook points to a sign that reads, "No Shirt ... No Shoes ... No Service!" As a busboy mops the floor behind the girl, a construction worker and a businessman sit on either side of her, oblivious to her charms. One might be tempted to write on the wall under the photo: "No Irony ... No Sale!"

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