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At ClampArt, An Exhibition at the Crossroads of Sexual Underground and Popular Culture

  • Leather Banner from The Spike, c. 1984
August 2, 2018
A philosophy graduate interested in theory, politics and art. Alias of Jelena Martinović.

In the 1960s, art was being taken in radical new directions. The period saw a change in social structure and the positions of women, while social mores surrounding sexuality began to relax. As sexual explicitness became an acknowledged source and cultural subject, sex became something to be represented, scrutinized and celebrated in art.

The latest exhibition presented by ClampArt and Ward 5B explores a little-known history at the crossroads of the sexual underground and popular culture. Titled Rough Trade: Art and Sex Work in the late 20th Century, the exhibition will bring together works by artists such as David Wojnarowicz, John Barrington, Kenny Burgess, Larry Clark, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Fred Halsted, Mark Morrisroe, Tomata du Plenty, John Sex, Jane Sherry, Pedro Slim, Samuel Steward, and Tommy Vallette, as well as a rich array of related ephemera. The show coincides with David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake at Night at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Mark Morrisroe, Untitled (Self Portrait Standing in the Shower), c. 1980-1
Mark Morrisroe – Untitled (Self Portrait Standing in the Shower), c. 1980-1. Vintage chromogenic print. © Estate of Mark Morrisroe (Ringier Collection) at Fotomuseum Winterthur, Courtesy of ClampArt, New York City

The Struggle for Sexual Expression and Artistic Freedom

As the boundaries of sexual expression began to be challenged and pushed in the 1960s, many artists of the time used expanding definitions of both art and sexuality and incorporated practices that were new to arts at the time. Some not only started working in the adult entertainment industry, but also employed these major social, psychological, and political upheavals in their artwork.

While artists such as David Wojnarowicz and Mark Morrisroe drew on their traumatic early experiences in hustling on the streets to create compelling works of art, others such as Tomata du Plenty and Larry Clark documented their friends, lovers, and multiple acquaintances that took part in the sex trade.

Following these seminal developments, groundbreaking exhibitions such as the Times Square Show in June 1980 were held in massage parlors, go-go bars, pornographic theaters, and strip clubs.

Larry Clark - Untitled (Hustler’s Handshake)
Larry Clark – Untitled (Hustler’s Handshake), from the portfolio “Teenage Lust,” c. 1981. Vintage gelatin silver print. © Larry Clark, Courtesy of ClampArt, New York City

An Insight Into a Hidden History

Curated by Greg Ellis and Brian Paul Clamp, the exhibition focuses on the sex industry, and the discrimination that often accompanied it in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Featuring art, ephemera, and artifacts, the show offers an insight into a hidden history where prostitution, stripping, and pornography played key roles in the struggle for sexual expression and artistic freedom.

As Jean Genet, hustler, heretic, and author, wrote:

She was happy, and perfectly in line with the tradition of those women they used to call ‘ruined,’ ‘fallen,’ feckless, bitches in heat, ravished dolls, sweet sluts, instant princesses, hot numbers, great lays, succulent morsels, everybody’s darlings…

sam Steward [Phil Sparrow] - Tattooed Man
Sam Steward [Phil Sparrow] – Tattooed Man, 1957. Ink and watercolor on artist board. © Sam Steward [Phil Sparrow], Courtesy of ClampArt, New York City

Rough Trade at ClampArt

Founded in 2000, ClampArt represents a wide range of emerging and mid-career artists of all media with a specialization in photography. An archival and curatorial service specializing in late 20th-century urban ephemera and art, Ward 5B focuses on punk aesthetic, radical spaces, performance art, drag, experimental theatre, camp, queercore, and guerrilla/street art projects.

The exhibition Rough Trade: Art and Sex Work in the late 20th Century will be on view at ClampArt in New York from August 2nd until September 22nd, 2018.

Featured image: Leather Banner from The Spike, c. 1984, Leather and metal rivets, Courtesy of ClampArt, New York City. All images courtesy of ClampArt.