Sex For Art's Sake
By Tim Murphy
A gay sex shop has sprung up inside the old Kunst Electric Appliances store at 45 Canal St. on New York's Lower East Side. But, well, it's not a real sex shop. That space is actually Asia Song Society, or ASS, the gallery of gay artist Terence Koh, who lives upstairs, and through July 3, it has been transformed into a fake porn shop, "complete with three unit video-buddy-booths sculpture screening art films in lieu of porn," as the press release reads. The exhibit (called Butt in ASS...wait, is that possible?) even smells like a sex shop! "We had interns leave samples in the booths beforehand to keep the right vibe," said Koh at the exhibit's opening Saturday night, wearing a huge white T-shirt and a huge chunky silver necklace. "We need to get one of those cleaners to clean the booth."
The exhibit is curated by Michael Bullock, the U.S. publisher of the arty gay Butt Magazine, and Yasmine Dubois-Ziai. It's part of an "alternative" Gay Pride that Butt's holding that included, on Friday night, a BUTT BANG! concert featuring Hunx and his Punx, Salem and New Orleans "sissybounce" stars Sissy Nobby and Big Freedia (see video at right). "It's political but not militant," said the striking Dubois-Ziai. "Gay art is not political at all today, just about cocks and fucking." Speaking of cocks, for the exhibit, Koh has created a large white neon replica of the rather iconic red neon rooster that hangs outside the East Village bar The Cock. Koh's white cock overlooks the fake buddy-booths.
Outside the booths, there are racks of fake porn DVDs with titles like Sit on My Face, Aborigine Cock Knockers, Corn Fed, Baby Wants to Ride and (best of all) Proposition Ate. Then you go in one of the three lock-able booths and watch videos by artists including Kathryn Garcia, Jean Genet, Slava Mogutin & Brian Kenny, Julika Rudelius and Isaac Julien. One video showed a black guy dancing with his dick out. Another, called "My Parents' Garden," showed two hot shirtless guys, one of them with a leather head mask, making out in a garden with a fake stuffed lamb and bird in it. While you watch, you can hear birdsong or a mash-up of artists including Prince, Madonna and the Muffs ("We're the Kids in America"). Unfortunately, the videos don't seem to get truly porny enough to masturbate to, which is encouraged. There are glory holes in the booths. "I guess the idea is that someone's dick might pop out at you," said one guy exiting a booth, "but it didn't happen."
The exhibit is also meant as a protest against the recent spate of arrests of gay men in New York City sex shops. Reportedly, in a scenario that sounds distinctly pre-Stonewall (given that this weekend marks the uprising's fortieth anniversary), for the past year or so, good-looking young undercover cops proposition forty- and fiftysomething gay men at sex shops, then, as they're out the door together, casually offer to pay the men for their services. Before the gay men even know what's going on, they're arrested for prostitution by undercover cops outside. The fight against the so-called false arrests has become a bit of a gay cause celebre, with rallies against them and the Manhattan D.A. pledging to investigate them. "It's entrapment," said Butt editor Adam Baran. "Men who've never been arrested before are being arrested." Hence the sex-shop exhibit. "It's a safe space for cruising," said Bullock. But with most of the activity going on outside the booths -- gay Lower East Side hipsters drinking vodka cranberries and looking at T-shirts emblazoned with images from New York's first gay pride march (1970), courtesy of American Apparel, the exhibit's major sponsor -- it mostly just felt like a safe space for schmoozing.
Butt in ASS runs June 22 through July 3 from 2 pm to 10 pm at 45 Canal Street, New York, NY. For more info, head here.