“Contemporary Erotic Drawing”

Organized by independent curator Stuart Horodner, Houston’s DiverseWorks director Sara Kellner, and Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum director Harry Philbrick, the elegant “Contemporary Erotic Drawing” never got hung up on what constitutes “erotic” or what constitutes a drawing. With sources ranging from comics (mainstream and underground) to the classical study, from high formal or “obsessive” abstraction to design and decoration, from the notebook doodle to midcentury abstract animation, most drawings in most media here treated sexuality as a source of delight, or, at least, an opportunity to treat self-hatred delightfully.

R. Crumb—whose influence was felt throughout the show—was himself represented by three works, including Big Healthy Girl Enjoys Deep Penetration from the Rear, 1998, an acknowledgment of the sheer energy involved in the sex act: A pants-free, socks-and-glasses-wearing male rides a superhero-like lady through the air as she moans AWRNH!! In Bedroom Eyes, 2002–2004, Scott Teplin’s felt-tip pen notes-to-self at the head and foot of a fitted bedsheet—NOW THAT I’VE DECIDED TO MAKE THIS BED ART I MIGHT HAVE TO WIPE MY BOOGERS ON THE BEDSTAND—float amid a constellation of doodled boob-like eyeballs, eyeball-like boobs, and pairs of boys’ underwear. Crumb’s exaggerated precision is also echoed in Mark Dean Veca’s Klusterfuck, 2002, in which a wallpaper pattern of protrusions and secretions surrounds an assortment of sexy scenarios including the Land O’ Lakes girl revealing her breasts (actually her knees, cut from the carton and taped up underneath, a trick my sister showed me when I was eight).

Tom Knechtel’s The Werewolf Yantra, 2002—in which a werewolf with a soft dog’s face and a middle-aged man’s body sleeps in an armchair dreaming of an eighteenth-century gown, of sucking someone off, of abduction, and of a convoluted brass instrument—brings to mind John Wesley’s sleeping bears, curious camels, and other human-loving animals. It’s a pity the para-Pop artist himself was not included—he may be just as important to just as many here as Crumb. His influence is patent in the work of Parisian duo Moriceau + Mrzyk, whose inky free associations include images of a woman reaching out to grasp not a penis but a snail’s slimy head, and the Michelin man giving it to a lady whose rolls of fat suggest a family relationship.

A few examples of what one might call “suggestive abstraction” provided short breaks in the lusty narrative but no relief from the show’s insistent Pop beat: Paul Henry Ramirez’s juicy blobs from the “Liquid Squeeze Series,” 1996–98, dripped cartoonish drops, while Ruth Waldman’s untitled work from 2004—a latticework of tender, multicolored living parts (testicles?), some leather-clad and stretched taut by hooks—evoked Dr. Seuss as much as de Sade. All was not lighthearted here, of course; on the repressed and creepy end was Ruth Marten’s graphite The Virgin, 2001, an Ernst-ish configuration of hair done up in braids, buns, sausage-curls, and ribbons. Simon English’s The 7.42 from Worthing, 2004, a series of studies on paper of Bacon-like males and gloomy females, effected the show’s lone moment of desperation. On the whole, this was a gratifying presentation for the Aldrich—and for New England, where a little titillation goes a long way.

Larissa Harris