Culture happens. That is, it can be curated, but it cannot be created intentionally. To be a part of culture, one has to be in it, participating. It doesn’t happen in newspapers or museums. Let me illustrate:
In the mid-1950s, failed bandleader Cass Carr charged amateur shutterbugs $10 to provide them with the location and talent to take nude photographs of women. They began shooting in a makeshift YMCA, eventually moving to the country north of New York City, where the sheriff caught up with them.
As Jim Linderman, a collector of those old nudes, tells it in his book, Camera Club Girls: Bettie Page and Her Friends: The Work of Rudolph Rossi, Carr and other proprietors of similar “camera clubs” not only provided the materials for “post-war titillation” as well as a sort of pre-Larry Flynt assault on square culture, but they also introduced the world to an enduring figure of counterculture: Bettie Page.
Culture happens this way. As much as I appreciate the archival, academic work of museums and universities, they focus on the past. Galleries, meanwhile, struggle too much with overhead to think about where culture might be headed. For art and culture to continue, artists must (metaphorically) kill their mentors, kill precedence.
An exhibition of Rossi’s work in a women’s boutique kills the notion that art exists in traditional locations (coffeehouses included) with traditional intentions. If we take pleasure viewing a woman naked, does her image become too lewd to accept as art? Do we re-view Rossi’s work hanging at Au Boudoir as art, rather than pornography, because each piece is an original, hand-painted by the artist?
Linderman, a Michigan resident in his late 50s and a self-described hermit, gave Au Boudoir the works to sell for around $400 a piece, according to boutique owner Elizabeth Rees, who believes, quite reasonably, that the photographs should go for much more. Rossi, however, doesn’t have any children or relatives, so he priced the works to sell. Rossi’s shots of Bettie Page have sold, and Rees says more nudes will arrive soon.
Less unlawfully underground than the camera clubs, but seemingly more hush-hush because of its off-street location and generally tranquil atmosphere, a fall concert series run by an art collective in an industrial space—by donation and with no alcohol sales—challenges the structure of music, the idea of music as an industry and our very understanding of what it means to gather.