YER ART SUX

(“Flurry” by Marilyn Minter, 1994)

This year’s London Frieze art festival included an exhibit called Sex Worka retrospective on the first wave of feminist art. “Your Art (Probably) Sux!” cried sex workers, upon realizing that the only one of us formally involved was an anonymous porn actress’ cropped pussy lips in a photo.

But to be fair, we hadn’t even seen much of the show. So how have we gotten to this cynical place, where giving an artist the benefit of the doubt seems like a losing bet? Because when it comes to conversations about sociosexual mores, the deck is stacked against us and the house always wins. Sex workers have long been used as muses, metaphors, and props, sensually strewn throughout the art world’s most famous boudoirs but rarely recognized as cultural producers in their own right. When it comes to the era of radical feminism at the heart of  Sex Work, a period of artistic fascination with (fetishization of?) prostitution, a time integral in the creation of a violent anti-prostitution feminist politic, the stakes seem life or death. Fool me once, you know?

For the record, I don’t think the art in Sex Work sux. Considering the recent death of Hugh Hefner, a misogynist whose myopic hetero vision of men, women, and sex shaped a generation, it is still somehow precious to see bodies represented through the eyes of anyone but straight cis men. Betty Tompkins’ black and white “Fuck Paintings” feel spectral, like catching a glimpse of her hazy vulvas through a steamy window. They were all too real, though, in 1973 when she had to order pornography from “the far east” to a secret mailbox in Canada, and then smuggle it across the American border.  Marilyn Minter’s color-saturated orifices aren’t nearly as shocking as the idea that only a few years before I was born she was told by a gallery that women artists don’t sell and to come back in ten years—or never.

The historical context of these works can’t be overlooked. They herald from a time that is eerily recent, when an exhibit featuring only women artists like this one would be so transgressive a curator might lose a career over it, and where the best an artist could hope for in terms of positive reviews was a patronizing remark about a work’s alterity—its “feminine qualities. “I like this art and yet I still struggle to release the distrust lingering from a many-decades-long betrayal committed by the epoch in question. Because after all, there is a historical context for sex worker outrage, too.

[NSFW image after the cut]

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Ryder Ripps (photo via his Facebook page) Can we use this? Is it considered a part of the public domain?

Behold, the prototypical art bro: Ryder Ripps. (photo via Ripps’ Facebook)

Juniper Fleming co-wrote this with Tits and Sass co-editors Caty Simon and Josephine. Josephine and Caty discuss the project and media reaction and Juniper analyzes the project video.

Juniper is an artist and writer living in New York. Attaining her BFA from the School of Visual Arts in 2014, she was the recipient of a Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD) Fellowship in 2013. She has shown her work internationally, and has been published in such places as Dear Dave and Make/Shift Magazine.

JOSEPHINE: It was Salvador Dali who famously said, “Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.” Perhaps New York-based artist Ryder Ripps was considering those words when the Ace Hotel in Manhattan brought him in as a one night artist-in-residence and provided him with a free night’s stay and $50 for supplies. Ripps decided to outsource his work to a couple of sensual massage workers from Craigslist and dubbed the results ART WHORE.

An internet controversy ensued; bloggers and critics accused Ripps of exploitation and ignorance. Ripps posits that he was actually making a point about exploitation. See, he did not feel fairly compensated for his work so, obviously, the “creative” thing would be to make someone else do it! Ripps was paid nothing for his work, in fact, at the end of it, he said he’d actually lost money after paying the workers for their labor. In essence: Ripps felt exploited by Ace Hotel, so he exploited someone else in an effort to emphasize his own exploitation. I think? Whoa. That’s deep. Mind blown.

His narcissism is so meta.

It gets better with Ripps’ oh-so-eloquent defense of the labor provided by the massage workers for ART WHORE: “Because good art is like good sex.” Got it. Sex workers making good art is very similar to sex workers making good sex, and good art is like good sex so, see, this whole project makes perfect sense. You just don’t understand.

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