With Genitals, Maybe Less is More

08/29/2012 4:00 AM |

Andrew Smenos, She’s a Fox, 2012
Courtesy Freight + Volume

“Whatever you think of the art, it has to be applauded for taking risks,” a friend told me recently. “The art in Chelsea is so safe.” He was talking about Freight + Volume’s The Double Dirty Dozen (& Friends) (through Sep 22), a show that explores the quest for freedom of expression by surveying the depiction of erect penises and juicy vaginas in art. More than 50 artists were invited to participate.

I have some reservations about my friend’s assessment of the show. A dick for dick’s sake isn’t ever going to be so risqué that it’s worth lauding. To be safe in contemporary art doesn’t mean keeping your clothes on—it means keeping your message vague.

Sadly, there’s a lot of this kind of confusion in the exhibition, ranging from Aaron Johnson’s globby “Turduckin’,” a painted shit-brown monster sticking its dicks into a woman made of vaginas, to Maria Kreyn’s kaleidoscope-esque painting of two men and a woman jacking each other off. The unspoken assumption here is that the more genitals depicted, the more taboo the piece.

There might be some truth to this, but you have to ask exactly what’s at stake here. Are the artists in this show breaking down boundaries? Are they demanding anything from viewers other than their attention? Nope on both counts.

One street over, Julika Rudelius’s “Rites of Passage,” at Leo Koenig (through Sep 8), manages to put a little more on the line. In the smaller of his two galleries, a double projection plays, and it’s deceptively simple: a series of young men fresh out of Ivy League colleges recite political jargon to older mentors in fancy offices. “If I’m in a position of leadership, my goal is to communicate two things everytime that I speak,” says one kid in a suit. “The first, what is my overall, what’s the endgame? And second, how do we do it, what are we doing today to get there?”

The lines sound a bit icky as they’re delivered, but the dialogue has a conversational feel, and you get the impression that the young man has done a good job. Two minutes later though, the exact same words are spoken by a different man, this time with a little less scuzz and a little more canniness. The result is that the man is able to talk a little longer, but also gets himself into trouble. Politicians are human and “it’s in human nature to never admit you’re wrong,” he says, noting how seldom we hear people concede fault.

I cringed a little as I heard that, as the words sounded like a wish for a more empathetic constituency. The fact that the video teases out the physical tension between the men as they circle each other only reinforces the idea that emotionally charged body language does more to define how we discuss politics today than the issues themselves.

You get the feeling that the men’s social standing, cultural capital, and even wealth is actually at stake, which creates a subtle eroticism more potent than any of the ejaculating dicks one street over. Still, I couldn’t help feeling a little underwhelmed with a message that simply reflects and magnifies what we already know to be a vacant dialogue. Isn’t that what the press corps is for?

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