A variation on an exhibit that Atlanta Contemporary Art Center curator Stuart Horodner debuted at Pennsylvania's Haverford College earlier this year, Sex Drive's Atlanta permutation mixes a different configuration of local artists and international names, including Leon Golub, Mira Schor and Tracey Emin.
As you would expect from a show about a concept highly dependent upon personal taste and fancy, Sex Drive is a mixed bag. There are plenty of titillating works that skim the surface, but also some incisive art that raises questions about how something as essential as sex can be so alternately divisive, boring and mystifying.
It is hard to get beyond the surface shock value of works like Steve Gianakos' irony-sodden painting "Schlong," which contaminates a story book-style image with an adult sense of knowingness. More successful — and revealing — is Vertna Bradley's video piece "Scandalous." Bradley perp walks an endless loop of high-profile scandals across the TV screen, from Clinton's humble-pie-eating to pretty, dead-eyed teachers confessing to sex with their teenage students. The droning litany of public vice gleefully masticated by TV news talking heads is deeply revealing for showing the gloss of finger-pointing judgment and condemnation we like served up with our gossipy sex scandals.
If Bradley's piece wallows in the puritanical view of sex as damnation, other works — many of them by women artists — probe deeper. In a sex-mad culture where taboos are hard to come by, Susan Silas' three photographs of a middle-aged couple having sex are about as boundary breaking as it gets.
While many of the male artists delight in scenes of Rabelaisian coupling and happy phalluses, several female artists address the potential for violence twisted up inside their view of sex, such as British artist Tracey Emin's provocative embroidery of a potentially aggressive sexual encounter onto a soft blanket. There is also implied violence in Leigh Ledare's video work "The Gift," featuring outtakes from a '70s-era fetish film featuring the artist's mother. And that's not even the weird part. The leering, unctuous voices of the unseen "directors" instructing their actress on how to move and behave rockets the ick factor through the roof.
Equally fascinating because it probes the duality of sex is Atlanta photographer Forest McMullin's documentation of ho-hum suburban vice in his series "Day/Night." About as sexy as a visit to the dentist, McMullin's diptych "David" shows a man with the face of a civil servant dressed up in his off-time like a little girl with blonde sausage curls, and offers a vision of sex at once bizarre and banal. Though popular culture often tends to depict sex in a narrow light, works like Silas or McMullin's - as well as a good number of works from lesbian and gay artists in the show - assert that in fact, it is radically varied.