Shotgun Review


By Shotgun Reviews January 31, 2016

Like the best hedonistic pleasure palaces, JOY Gallery is a bit off the beaten path. Located in San Francisco’s Bayview District, the space is inconspicuous except for glowing red lights and a small hand-painted sign in the window that reads "LEWD! an Art Show." Comprising sixteen artists, half of them women, Lewd celebrates the illicit and lascivious. The exhibition’s success owes to the varied interpretations of its theme; some pieces are overtly sexual, with big visual puns packing shock value, while others elicit a more modest eroticism. Many works in the exhibition have a vintage aesthetic, as if nostalgic for a bygone era of pinups and burlesque. 

Jenee Larson uses a pinup-esque poodle as both analogue and parody of human sexuality, dominance, and desire. Something between a Barbie and a porcelain knickknack, Nude Pood (2016) is a toylike ceramic sculpture of a pink poodle replete with accessories, coifed hair, and a come-hither stare. Larson’s work wrestles with domesticated eroticism—a mix of teenage naivety and the self-aware, assertive midcentury pinup ideal.

Following the theme of erotic anthropomorphism, Martin Cacic's mixed-media paintings depict hybrid night creatures. In Golden House of an Emperor (2015), the fishnet-clad feminine body of a boozy barfly morphs at the neck into a frosty pint of beer. Reminiscent of 1960s cocktail napkins, this wild-time woman is the apotheosis of a night you won't remember but can never forget.

Modest in size but not in subject, Alaina Varrone’s untitled work is a small embroidered scene left on the embroidery hoop. Composed in different textures and fibers but all in variant shades of pink, burgundy, and red, the scene depicts a woman in cavernous folds of red fabric, splayed in the throes of cunnilingus. The result is erotic and multi-sensorial, with the different textures of thread beckoning to be touched.

Alaina Varrone. Untitled, 2010; embroidery; 9 x 5 in. Courtesy of the Artist and JOY Gallery, San Francisco.
Many of the pieces in Lewd have an element of retro kitsch, which may in part be due to the proclivity of the curator (when the space isn't being used as an exhibition space, it is a vintage clothing store), but alludes to a larger cultural shift. Retro aesthetics and the resurgence of vintage are partially a nostalgic reaction to our changing culture. The days of paper pornography, pinups, and peepshows are done, and in their wake is an infinitely accessible field of online video pleasures. Lust in the digital era participates in the immediacy of instant gratification and the simplicity of binary expectations, swiping left or right, leaving little to be filled in with our lewd imaginations.


Ariel Zaccheo is an independent curator and writer based in San Francisco. She received an MA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2011 and currently works as the Curatorial Assistant at the Museum of Craft and Design.

Lewd is on view at JOY Gallery, in San Francisco, through February 5, 2016.

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