Jo Legner and Philip Campbell
Through Aug. 7
If surrealism was about emancipation from conventional ways of thinking by exploring the contents of the unconscious, certainly human desire, and its free expression, was an obvious thing to come bubbling to the surface. Often there was playfulness involved as well; and it's in this spirit that I took in Jo Legner and Philip Campbell's Erotica exhibit at Big Car gallery. But the exhibition comes across as being more about obsession than emancipation; we're no longer in a puritanical society after all - to the contrary. In fact, blatant sexuality is so pervasive as to be almost clichéd in the mass culture. Erotic art, then, if it is to be considered art rather than pornography, should by definition be beautiful; or at least it should provoke or challenge us in the thoughtful sense. Otherwise, it's just another empty attempt to arouse sexual desire. 'Black panties' by Philip Campbell
While there were some lovely and subtle moments in some of Campbell's drawings, and Legner's had the occasional playful moment and were nicely displayed on exotic paper, overall I felt less like a witness to the plumbing of the artists' unconscious depths and more like I'd accidentally walked into their bedroom. Legner's drawings are almost comic, Warhol-esque, but she doesn't give us the full picture - or, rather, the opportunity to appreciate the more aesthetic aspects of physical intimacy. Instead, these are more or less caricatures of sexual organs in action, if skillfully drawn. Campbell, on the other hand, lends an element of abstraction - coming at, say, the late photographer Edward Weston's erotic peppers resembling folds of skin from the other vantage point: folds of skin resembling the contours of a pepper. This is perhaps clichéd, but certainly subtler fare when it comes to erotic art.
The self-described experimental (read: unconventional) space Big Car - a new and welcome presence in town - presents this show within the context of the surrealists, employing the Andre Breton quote, "Desire is the only master man must recognize." The Marquis de Sade, the quintessential bad boy of erotica, shared this sentiment, but his writings were of their time, which is to say, a reaction to repression. Suggestion of such a larger context, even if it's somewhat misplaced, is helpful; otherwise, what do we have, but a festival of Legner and Campbell's orgasmic bliss? For me, and with all due respect to personal taste and joyful sexual expression, I think I'll quietly close the door and step away, wishing I had knocked.
Erotica continues at Big Car in the Murphy Arts Center through Aug. 7; 339-0911. Hours are 5-8 p.m. on Fridays and 1-4 p.m. on Saturdays.