Dirty nights in Detroit

After one visit to Detroit’s  “Dirty Show,” all else will seem muted. The atmosphere is explicit. The mood is curious. The theme is the hottest topic of all: Sex.

Last Friday marked the beginning of the international erotic art exhibition’s two-weekend engagement at Bert’s Warehouse Theatre in the Eastern Market area of Detroit. A long entrance hallway does little to prepare attendees for the show behind closed doors. Between the initial $9,000 phallic statue and the two almost-naked girls suspended above the bar by scandalously placed pantyhose, the atmosphere could be, well, blushing, for the modest. Get through the first shock, though, and the experience is like none other.

“It seems to generate a kind of giddy anticipatory excitement; like when you are getting ready for a date and you are not 100 percent certain, yet you’re pretty sure you’re going to get laid,” said Jerry Vile (aka Jerry Peterson), founder of The Dirty Show. “When you get that many happy positive endorphins in a room, it becomes electric.”

In its eleventh year, The Dirty Show is one of the largest erotic art exhibitions in the world with a new sponsor, Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club. The tides have certainly changed since 2000 when Vile held the first show in the offices of his now-kaput Detroit magazine, Orbit. 

Its popularity was outstanding and the show grew to larger spaces until it settled in its current home in 2007.

People of all ages, styles and fetishes gathered in observance of erotic art for the exhibition’s first three days on Feb. 12-14, two of which were sold out. This upcoming weekend promises high attendance again.

April MacKay, a ballet dancer who performs in the show’s salacious version of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake,” said, “It’s an extremely diverse crowd. A lot of people who come are really into the scene, the whole subculture. Then there are other people who come out of curiosity, some who just come to watch and others you’d never expect, like Joe at the office.”

The feeling inside is community-oriented, a few weekend nights where raw sexuality is explored in celebratory forms with other adults. Those forms span artwork, performance pieces, dancing, stripping and other types of interactive entertainment, some involving paddles. Performances and art abound makes the $15 admission price well spent.

Friday and Saturday are the exhibit’s biggest nights, with larger crowds and more performance surprises. Audience attention is split in two directions between the artwork lining the walls and the main stage, which showcases burlesque dancers, cabaret performers, fetish acts, suspension artists and comedy routines. 

On Valentine’s night Audra Kubat, a Detroit-based musician, graced the stage wearing a feathered skirt, her top only covered by a ukulele to which she strummed and sang beautifully. Other performers were crowd favorites: “Kat the midget entertainer,” and Lady Fuchsia and Shadow, aerial acrobats who slinked and stunted to brooding music.

Before performances, the artwork is still the show’s initial focus. All work is for sale, ranging from $50 to $10,000. Serious art collectors attended opening night.

Vile said he was excited for the featured work of Frederic Fontenoy, a Parisian photographer whose voyeuristic lens captures vintage stills of stocking-clad women caught in fetish positions.

Other artistic themes cover homosexuality, religion, old age, size and race. “Only in America” is a collaged map of the United States with pornography cutouts representing each state. “Zing” is bondage pop art, and “Holier than Thou” is a bronze fountain of simulated fluids.

Yes, here is a place where anything goes. Perversion or art, The Dirty Show pleases in the worst ways. 

Feb. 19 and 20 are the final nights of The Dirty Show. Exhibit opens at 7 p.m. and runs until 2 a.m. Tickets are available online at dirtyshow.org and at the door.