A Shrine To Criminals, Cult Icons And Lana Del Rey: Reviewing My Own Devotional Permanent Collection Exhibition

Two handmade boxes of Lana Del Rey and Susan Atkins aka Sadie aka Sexy Sadie by Susana of Thee Psychic Shop (all photos by author)

No. No I don’t want to visit your online viewing room, your digital group exhibition or your virtual gallery. Even more, I don’t want to review your online viewing room, your digital exhibition or your virtual gallery.

And Zoom openings? I’d rather go to the opening of my toilet seat.

I don’t know about you, dearest artsy fartsy Filthy Dreams readers, but my inbox has been flooded for over a month now of promotional emails pleased to announce the next frontier of the art world when everything IRL is shuttered: the World Wide Web!!

Forget all those net art or digital artists who have been working in this field for decades. These blue chip galleries and institutions are pioneers, bravely forging a new terrain of the Internet. And trust me–some of these spaces are completely and utterly convinced of their own experimental exceptionalism. Case in point: David Zwirner even has a countdown clock to the “closing” of each of their online viewing room shows. Paging someone who cares!

Speaking of David Zwirner, one of the most unsettling parts of this rush to colonize the Internet is Zwirner’s “Platform,” an online space the Zwirner has so kindly, charitably and I’m sure, selflessly given over to galleries whose roster they’ll eventually usurp for their own gain…I mean, as their explanatory text states, “our friends, neighbors, and peers.” From the looks of their first New York launch, the galleries seem to be smaller and primarily located in Chinatown and the Lower East Side such as Queer Thoughts, 47 Canal or JTT. It totally isn’t a way for Zwirner to capitalize on what will sure be a struggle for these smaller spaces to maintain their businesses (and rents) during the global pandemic, gobbling them up like a more artistically inclined Walmart. That’s definitely not it, as their text explains: “With physical galleries and museums temporarily closed, during these uncertain times, the art community has increasingly turned to digital spaces to share the work of artists and to engage passionate audiences all over the world.”

Passionate audiences? Do you know anyone who is passionate about anything other than survival at the moment?

Two of Mark DeMaio’s 100 Witches

Now, I know, I know. Art folks are just trying to figure out how to keep their heads above water like everyone else right now. I don’t mean to be harsh–I understand that there are artists and spaces trying to make the best of an impossible economic hardship by moving online, as well as attempting to avoid layoffs, furloughs and permanent closures. It’s just that when I was blinking, bleary-eyed and feverish, at my email when I was at my sickest with COVID-19, the last thing I wanted to see was another Chelsea gallery trying to get me to look at a viewing room (or write about it!).

Mostly what I’ve found upsetting is the whiplash-inducing rapidity with which certain arts spaces seemed to jump into the void of online sales. Jesus, if we can slow down any time without leaping into hyper-speed capitalism, can’t it be during a global pandemic? (No, apparently) And taking some time to reconsider and reflect might be a good thing for a particular segment of the art world. In the years prior to this moment, it had, you have to admit, taken on a sort of Fall of Rome quality with all the international biennials, art fairs, open-bar gallery opening dinners, jet-setting curators, etc. The most visible part of the art industry consisted of the same artists represented by the same galleries being shown in the same museum exhibitions curated by the same curators who all visited the same biennials and art fairs. And the garish displays of extravagance in order to court collectors or even worse, the cringe-inducing perceived gains in social capital weren’t the only things that made it revolting, it was the sheer fact that it all was so incredibly BORING.

Maybe this is a good time to step back rather than trying to shove all the same damn work into the same damn online viewing rooms. And anyway, wasn’t the losing battle in the Instagram age attempting to convince people that yes, it does matter if you see the artwork in person?

But what these online exhibitions have really thrown into question is the role of the art critic or arts writer in all this. Not that there was much of a role to begin with, let’s be honest. Arts writers in the last couple years have dropped the “critic” part of that title in order to shill basic PR drivel to avoid being uninvited from the next press trip to [insert biennial or triennial here]. But even the writers penning glorified press releases were largely writing about events happening beyond their screens. Well, now what?

For me–I’m never going to write about an online viewing room, but that doesn’t mean I can’t write about art. Or see it in person! Considering we’re stuck in perpetual quarantine in our tiny ass spaces, sheltered in place, staying at home or like me, too perpetually post-viral exhausted to go anywhere for that long, the only art review that makes sense now is an art review of your own home. We are all the curators of our own permanent collections, aren’t we? Who says a squashed, squished and cramped apartment isn’t a museum?

So let me be the first to review my own permanent collection. And no, this isn’t objective journalism, but wasn’t that just a bullshit fallacy anyway?


Pennywise by Jennifer Quinones

Ricocheting madly between pinging off the walls and staring at them blankly, too ill to concentrate on reading or binge-watching TV, having COVID-19 gave me a good excuse to consider what exactly my art collection was saying. And what conclusion did I come to? Well, unhinged and maniacal are two words that immediately come to mind. I’ve always wanted an interior decorating scheme in which I could describe my apartment as a “lair,” and I think I’ve finally achieved that with a collection of art, assorted trash tchotchkes and fanatical odes to my objects of obsession, from cult film icons to pop and rock stars to well, ok, a few murderers. Don’t ask me how it happened. I just keep accruing more!

As a curator, I know when a show strikes the right balance–when all the works in a space perfectly converge in order to have a dialogue between each other and the public. And well, I knew when I reached it inside my own abode when a friend commented that my apartment looked as if I was storing the bodies in an apartment below. How did he know?! Another indication that my permanent collection was perfectly curated to my desired intent was when I overheard the super leading the city’s building inspector away from picking mine as the “random check.” On some level, I get it. But on the other hand, does a painting of Tim Curry as that demonic camp clown Pennywise from It by artist Jennifer Quinones (a major horror buff, known more for her cat paintings) hung outside my bathroom terrify that much? He’ll give you a balloon and maybe a kiss, fat boy!

As a whole, my permanent art collection boils down to demented devotion. Many of you already know that I have something of a fascination with frenzied ecstatic religiosity, though I’m much more interested in secular worship, as seen in Idol Worship, than any sort of traditional religious denomination (cults not withstanding). This isn’t to say some Christian classics don’t make an appearance, albeit in a semi-sacrilegious fashion like the wall-mounted albums, bestowed to me by Filthy Dreams’ own Andy Anderson: The Lord’s Prayer by Sister Janet Mead juxtaposed with The Leather Nun’s Force of Habit. But, if the Old Testament is more your speed, I do have Exodus, a found art piece by my uncles Ricardo + Jesse, which consists of tiny mink faces from a monstrous mink coat peeking out of a jewelry box as if they’re escaping from Egypt.

Pacifico Silano’s “I Am Fucking Crazy But I Am Free”

This pious and faithful fervor confronts viewers immediately upon entering. All art reviews tend to start with some hackneyed description of the first work the art critic sees so why not stay true to form? In my permanent collection, the preeminent eye-catcher–the one gazing deeply at you, convincing you to live fast, die young, be wild and have fun–is our Lord and Savior, our blessed mother, our Lady of the Sad Girls Lana Del Rey, courtesy of Pacifico Silano’s I Am Fucking Crazy, But I Am Free. Dressed as Mother Mary herself from her short film Tropico, this holy Lana likeness is silkscreened on an enormous American flag. And sure, some tightwad might say this pairs both a desecration of the flag with a sprinkle of sacrilege, but they’d be wrong: Lana is both our religion and our national anthem. I pledge allegiance to her every morning and pray to her every night.

Three Saints by Cara Dzuricky

Of course, this isn’t the only Lana-related sacramental item in my permanent collection. This unusual girl with a chameleon soul also appears as one of a series of devotional candles, along with fellow Saint Marianne Williamson (patron saint of woo-woo junk science) and Saint Andrew Cunanan (more on Saint Andrew shortly), as well as on a delightfully unsettling handmade box by Susana from Thee Psychic Shop. This box presents an image of Lana with a realistic line of cocaine slashed across her eyes. Who wouldn’t love her with every beat of your cocaine heart?

Mark DeMaio “You’re Getting Sleepy”

If you can distract yourself from Lana’s call to the open road or pick yourself up from crawling to her on your knees, Mark DeMaio’s hypnotic harlequin hallucination You’re Getting Sleepy will surely trigger a psychedelic flashback. A black-and-white canvas filled with clowns, jack-o-lanterns, all-seeing eyes, snakes, lips and any number of other surreal creatures floating from your fever dreams, the painting is a monument to losing yourself in lunacy. You’re Getting Sleepy is just one of the works by Mark DeMaio in my collection, which also include dual multicolored Warhol-esque portraits of our favorite witch, The Wicked Witch of the West, and a painting Who Killed Bunny Duck? The thickly painted rendering of the latter is as gleefully bizarre and mind-bending as its title with poor Bunny Duck, all bunny ears and quacking face looking shocked with a bloody throat. Poor Bunny!

Mark DeMaio “Who Killed Bunny Duck?”

The truth is, though, any number of works in my permanent collection could have been the culprit. I didn’t plan for it to turn out this way, but I do have a lot of tributes to violent behavior peppered throughout my space, beyond the aforementioned Pennywise. If I were to point fingers at a suspect for Bunny Duck, I’d have to say that gay spree killer and Versace assassin Andrew Cunanan would be my first guess. Placed above my kitchen table, this reverential portrait by Cara Dzuricky depicts Cunanan as played by Darren Criss in American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace. Surrounded by gilded Versace-inspired patterns, Cunanan ponders out of the picture frame with a demure cardigan slung over his shoulders in the neon-soaked light of Miami gay bars. Why Cunanan? That’s a whole Filthy Dreams article in itself, dearest Filthy Dreams readers, but in short, Cunanan represents the dark side of queer world-making. When everything goes to shit, when you have no other option, when the homophobic world is built against you, why not create your own? Some people do it through artistic means or building a community in nightlife; others through pathological lying and spree killing. Each to their own! As Joker says in The Dark Knight, “Madness, as you know, is like gravity. All it takes is a little push.” Hey! Wait–Why don’t I have an artwork of HIM?

Andrew Cunanan by Cara Dzuricky

Cult leaders and their followers also hold a special place in my heart. I mean, apartment. I mean, permanent collection. Posing in his jaunty violent violet robe with some to-die-for nail polish and his iconic shades, a glittering portrait of Jim Jones, also by Cara Dzuricky, sits in a frame emblazoned with “Godfather” and “someone to love, lead and guide me.” Tell me how to live, Jim! Nearby is another handmade box from Thee Psychic Shop featuring my absolute favorite Manson Family member Susan Atkins aka Sadie Mae Glutz aka Sexy Sadie in one of her many court dates, truly the most frightening of the believers. Weren’t the girls always much more interesting than Manson himself? Susan eventually found God as she details in her memoir Child of Satan, Child of God, a copy of which is placed next to her box. But before she found Jesus or vice versa, Sadie was absolutely ruthless, bragging to anyone and anyone that would listen that she killed some pigs. I may never say never to always, but I’ll always say always to Sadie!!

Jim Jones by Cara Dzuricky

And look, I know some people might clutch their pearls at my fascination with crime and bad behavior. But, crime is beauty, Dawn! Our papa preeminent filth elder John Waters always understood the ghoulish pull to hoard bizarre crime-related objects. And since I’ve ripped almost everything else off of John, why stop now? In his chapter “All My Trials” in Shock Value, John speaks briefly about his desire to own ghastly true crime collectibles such as the sign from the Peoples Temple in San Francisco: “I coveted this sign and kept thinking how spiffy it would look in my living room.” Me too, John! And for those of you still mad, John answers, “We didn’t commit the crimes. We just want to be part of the drama!” Exactly!

Tatyana Gubash “Cookie Mueller”

This isn’t to say my idol worship only involves the dark side–I have plenty of idolatry saved up for the good, as well as the evil, representing the balance I struggle with daily. And speaking of John Waters, I naturally had to have a nod to the Dreamlanders–here in the form of underground actress, junk science doctor, uproarious writer, wild hairdo queen and eyeliner pioneer Cookie Mueller’s glittering, sparkling eyes by Tatyana Gubash. One of her series of eye makeup drawings, Gubash’s Cookie Mueller memorializes that Baltimore goddess’s glamorous, fearless and just slightly vulnerable winged war paint. Cookie is positioned right next to Cunanan, which always makes me wonder: what would their conversations be like? Dream dinner party!

These expensive VIP lanyards have to be used for something

Mueller isn’t the only role model, however. On the other side of Cunanan sits a photograph of drag mother to us all: Jack Doroshow, otherwise known as Mother Flawless Sabrina, playing Dead Dorian in Michelle Handelman’s Dorian, a cinematic perfume. Yoko Ono performs a later version of her eponymous Cut Piece performance on my refrigerator in a smaller version of the large stickers by Aaron Krach seen in Idol Worship at Smack Mellon. And Nick Cave glowers over a typewriter in one of the many posters I’ve collected from panic-buying VIP Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds concert tickets over the years.

Bette by Pacifico Silano

Bathhouse-era Bette Midler also features as a torch song tribute in Pacifico Silano’s photograph Bette, which pairs the vintage image of the belter with an archival photograph of a 1970s-era Mr. Christopher Street beauty competition. Though both images are lighthearted, the photograph melancholically tangles with the past and its savage undertow, namely the inability to read these images of a vibrant gay community without also viewing their unreachable absences: the multitude of losses from HIV/AIDS (both the loss of people themselves and the possibility of community, sex, freedom, etc.). This same elegiac impulse is visible in Anna Campbell’s edition Reach through the tight pucker of time; Feel their survival against your skin, which pays tribute to the Everard Baths, a bathhouse closed in the early days of the AIDS crisis, through a bar of soap, a towel and a print detailing formative experiences in the baths.

Anna Campbell “Pride, that old Bitch!”

My permanent collection doesn’t only just showcase eulogies to the queer past, however. Another editioned work by Anna Campbell references both the consumerist exhaustion and continued hope in present queer culture through a handkerchief (the new hankie code?) that reads: “Pride, that old Bitch!” This seems even more fitting now that Pride has been cancelled in New York this year. How are we supposed to honor that old bitch now?! And more importantly, where are we going to find some free branded hideous rainbow crap?

Speaking of crap, some of the works on view in my permanent collection are well, not exactly fine art. Case in point: a “print” (?) I grabbed and wrinkled up in my pocket, while drinking at my favorite local dive bar: International Bar. Revealing two men sitting in a dank and dingy apartment, one of which holds a bottle out to beg, “You have to take these poppers away from me,” the exact story behind its acquisition is perhaps more interesting than the…ahem…work itself. A guy shoved a few of these masterpieces at International’s bartender, who then blankly asked Cara Dzuricky and me if we wanted them. YES! Who couldn’t relate to needing someone to take away the poppers? Truly the artist of our times.

Art by that guy from International

In addition, there are also a smattered scattering of “found” sculptural objects, such as a wall-mounted voodoo doll who I’ve christened Mama Roux from New Orleans (not the only piece from New Orleans–a print of a red-wigged cat smoking a cigar by Cary Chun Lee sits on a bookshelf). She has been giving me luck ever since our other faithful co-founder Marion bestowed her upon me. Yes, she looks scary at first, but don’t judge–she’s in here for good fortune.

Mama Roux

And Mama Roux isn’t the only source of good luck either, as seen with my little Japanese Tanuki sculpture given to me by artist John Walter. Who is Tanuki, you ask? Well, he’s a giant testicled Japanese raccoon dog that also appears in Japanese literature. Sure, his balls indicate some sort of medical problem, but he’s also swigging from a giant bottle of saki. Who wouldn’t! 

Those aren’t tanuki’s feet

Perhaps the most distressing thing I own, however, has to be Trumpy Bear. “That’s not art!” I’m sure some of you will exclaim, but hear me out: Trumpy Bear, despite being, I’ll grudgingly admit, very soft and kind of cute with his angry eyebrows, exemplifies everything about our current age: As-Seen-On-TV hucksterism, nefarious cult leaders, farcical displays of patriotism, questionable taste, and bold displays of trashiness, excess and tackiness. And to round out my own permanent collection exhibition, there’s nothing like engaging with idol worship at its absolute worst–or perhaps best.

Trumpy Bear

So how would YOU review your permanent collection, dearest Filthy Dreams readers? What does your design scheme…I mean, curatorial vision…question, unpack or trouble? Since all the “respected” art critics (not us) will likely be rendered unnecessary in our new COVID-19 age, you might as well join us in reviewing your apartment! And maybe we’ll just publish it.

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