The last step of me and my inamorato's gallery hopping odyssey this past Saturday landed us at The Museum of Sex where we viewed (after elbowing our way though the lobby gift shop, jam packed with tourists) two exhibits: The Nudie Artist: Burlesque Revealed and Comics Stripped. I mostly want to talk about Comics Stripped, so more about the Burley-Q exhibit in a moment.
Their comics exhibit is curated by Craig Yoe, an extremely interesting and knowledgeable personage. He's a former Creative Director of The Muppets and over the years has had his fingers in many, many comics and animation pies. He now runs his own design studio and occasionally writes books on the history of comics. Most recently, Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman's Co-Creator Joe Shuster (with an introduction penned by Stan Lee). I was lucky enough to be at the Dr. Sketchy's event promoting the release of the book about a year and a half ago. You can find some of the pictures I drew that day (of the lovely Darenzia) here.
Yoe charts the history of dirty comics from the Tijuana bibles of the '20s and '30s, through the cartoons that appeared in Playboy in the '50s and early '60s through the work of Italian comic artist Guido Crepax (who also has a Louise Brooks inspired book) on to R. Crumb (more about him this week, too!) and on to modern innovators like Alison Bechdel. The show is comprehensive and well curated and well worth a look.
Sadly, I can't really say the same for The Nudie Artist. I think this is where the Museum of Sex's for-profit status really shows. I have a feeling they don't have the access or resources to put together an exhibit worthy of the subject matter (I think they need curators with the access that someone like Yoe brings to the table). The exhibit mostly consists of a gallery of photographs taken by Leland Bobbé of current burlesque performers which are, you know, fine. But not all that thrilling, especially considering the gigantic and interesting personalities of his subjects. An odd thing: I liked his photographs far more at a smaller size when I was looking at the on line gallery on his web site.
The Nudie Artist also included a room of drawings by sketch artist/illustrator Luma Rouge. I like her work very much, but I thought the exhibit as a whole could have benefited from far more (ironically) variety. It's such a rich and interesting subject matter and with all this renewed interest in burlesque past and present there is so much more that could have been done. I wonder if anyone contacted Liz Goldwyn who has been collecting vintage burlesque costumes for years, or thought about raiding some photo and newspaper archives. There was a small section that did look at Burlesque as it existed in the earlier part of the 20th century, with some (few) photos and a costume that had been worn by Blaze Starr, and to my mind the most exciting thing in the exhibit, a recreation (or preservation - I'm not certain) of Mara Gaye's vanity: but I wanted more, dammit, more!
The main problem with this Museum is likely its for-profit status. It has to pay for itself somehow, so far more attention and care seem to have been taken over the gift shop and the cafe. I don't know that its mission is particularly scholarly, but I would be curious to find out exactly what its mission is. The comics exhibit was extremely well curated and thoughtful, but the people wandering around the Nudie Show exhibit didn't really know what they were looking at. If you didn't know already, you would not learn who Jo Boobs or Dirty Martini are, you would just know that their pictures are on the wall. Which is really kind of a shame.