Uncovered, revealed, stripped, bared

The RN&R ventures into the world of stripper clichés at XXXposed—and finds a few sparks of thought-provoking originality

Dusk is settling on an alley downtown. You expect that when you round the corner into the alley, there will be an uninhabited stretch of dirty cement and brick, maybe a plastic bag or two knocked around by the wind. You fear you won’t be able to find the right door.

“This is kind of like Swingers,” you tell your friend. “Going the secret way to get to the secret place.”

Looking down the alley, you see light spill through garage-size warehouse doors. The crowd spills out too, with cups of wine or beer in their hands. Bump bump bump. As you get closer, you hear music.

“Is that Radiohead?” you ask your friend.

Orange road cones direct you to the buzz.

Now you are inside the building. It has that stark warehouse look. The voices rise and settle above you in a steady drone of white noise. The music floats from behind an industrial chain link fence. There’s a turntable back there; hip girls and dudes who look of the Rasta persuasion spin techno. The beat mingles with the chatter and laughter.

Skin, leather, pleather, polyester: Women wear outfits on the slinky side, while their male admirers lounge in loose-fitting suits. The placed is packed with local artists, their muses and curious patrons of art, all gathering to experience the second annual XXXposed exhibit and auction, held in the back of the River Gallery downtown. Where but in Reno can you find such a seamless melding of art and stripper culture?

Amid all the coolness, we try to remain low key as we move from piece to piece, exchanging opinions. We are open to the idea of the female body being interpreted in a variety of forms, but we admittedly view the art from a skeptical female perspective. Because of the quirky nature of the exhibit, we decide to shun traditional art review format and instead write down our visceral reactions to select pieces.

We first see Elizabeth Cohen’s series of five photos, titled “A Yellow Relationship.” The distinguishable feminine features of the photograph’s subject, a blonde woman, have been flattened or covered by brown paint. In each photograph, the woman holds bananas and palm leaves in varying playful positions. She seems to be imitating a palm tree.

Miranda: I think it’s really interesting that this is done by a woman. I can’t imagine a man doing photos like these. They’re really unattractive, and it’s completely non-sexual. Bananas are kind of phallic, though. Which do you like best?

Carli: I like No. 1, for the sheer number of bananas. She’s very plant-like herself, like she’s giving birth to the bananas. Very fertile.

Miranda: Do you think any stripper would be comfortable doing photos like these?

Carli: Not many, I guess. The parts that are shown—or hidden—in stripping are revealed in an unflattering way.

In “Exposed” by Sallie Pryce, two photographs are digitally combined to make it look as if it’s one photo. On the left is a blonde woman in an American flag bikini. She looks through an apartment window. Outside, the World Trade Center is in flames.

Carli: Hmmm.

Miranda: Yes, hmmm. … It’s tasteless in a non-tasteful way. Somebody can be tasteless and make you think, but it’s tasteless without any of those redeeming qualities.

Carli: I find it interesting that, just as America is falling apart, she is already anticipating our need for patriotism. Conveniently, she caught on to an American trend before everyone else did.

Miranda: She doesn’t look like she’s from New York.

Next is Chad Sorg’s “Samurai,” a mixed-media work in which the upper torso of a woman melds into her own reverse images. The woman is surrounded by turquoise-colored water. Next to Sorg’s piece are photographs of bondage scenarios by Mark Smith. We overlook these, as they do not invite deep reflection. Sorg’s piece has a marked vulnerable and ethereal appeal—an appeal that’s magnified by its proximity to the down-and-dirty bondage photos.

Carli: It reminds me of U2’s video for Even Better Than the Real Thing.

Miranda: It seems like it’s got that kind of sensual quality, with the naked women and the water. It’s kind of sensitive, maybe because her eyes are closed. It looks really peaceful. Everything runs together. You could get lost in it.

Then we get to the jewelry on display.

Carli: It’s a labia necklace. Wow.

Miranda: The “Rocks and Rods” necklaces are especially appealing to me as a woman. Actually, I don’t really think of myself as a woman.

Carli: What do you think of yourself as?

Miranda: A little girl. A dirty little girl. (Laughs.) Not really.

On a pedestal in the middle of the room are Dayna Galletti’s three ceramic figures of full-bodied, hermaphroditic women. Our favorite is “Where’s My Pole?”

Miranda: I really like this. Is she talking about a fishing pole?

Carli: I like her Picasso-esque features. Maybe it’s just the way she’s stretching, but I like the asymmetry of her body. She looks like she could kick some ass.

Miranda: It’s very cherubic and loveable. You just want to cuddle them.

We see a series of photos by Susan Martin depicting hookers in a motel room. Each is captioned with a handwritten note. In one photo, the hooker is obscured; the caption reads, “You can’t see me but you still have to pay.” Another photo, in which a hooker is sprawled out on a bed, with lines and prices drawn over her body, reminds us of crime scene photos. It reads, “Women’s body parts, how much will you pay?”

Carli: I like this a lot.

Miranda: It’s the first piece I’ve seen here that seems to be conveying a little more. They have a little bit more depth to them.

Carli: I love the way she handwrote the text. I like how, in the exhibit, a covert slam of the objectification of women can coexist with a glorification of it.

Miranda: They make a nice collection altogether.

Finally, we move on to the male as a sexual being. A series of paintings by Beth Rubenstein titled “Photomat Follies” imitate that vertical series of photos you get from a photo booth. They all capture males exhibiting varying degrees of masculinity. Some men show off their tattoos. One wears a canine mask.

Carli: When we get to the men, we have men as dogs.

Miranda: I would feel humiliated if I were the guy with the dog mask. If I saw a woman with these masks, I might feel offended. But because it’s a man, I just feel sorry for him.