Last night my latest exhibition "The Nudie Artist: Burlesque Revived" opened at the Museum of Sex. Featuring the work of Luma Rouge, Leland Bobbé as well as footage from Behind the Burly, a film by Leslie Zemeckis and personal artifacts from Mara Gaye, born Marjorie Helen Ginsberg (1920-2005) a long-time professional showgirl, model, burlesque performer and dancer with the Radio City Rockettes (1939-1943), the exhibition bridges the gap of the burlesque of the past and the burlesque of the present.
Burlesque is a form of American folk art/theater intended to entertain, engage and arouse its audience. This sexy stage show, which has evolved tremendously in both form and intent throughout the centuries, is sometimes funny, occasionally grotesque and often titillating to watch. While performers in the 1880s performed burlesque for economic reasons, modern performers embrace burlesque for its art form. In the mid 1990s, a revival of this performance art form took place in both New York and Los Angeles and slowly grew into a worldwide movement. I believe contemporary burlesque performers draw upon the craft of their ancestors to create art that centers on the sexual body, using the removal of clothing to make social and political commentary, celebrate creative self-expression as well as promote a culture of female sexual empowerment and body appreciation. This exciting synthesis of the nostalgia for the past combined with contemporary sensibilities has exploded into a new art form, captivating artists, designers, filmmakers, journalists, performers and audiences alike. The Nudie Artist: Burlesque Revived, will feature close to 100 artifacts and works of art and allows visitors to peek inside the world of neo-burlesque and see it from a personal angle. Inspiring artwork, personal photos, rare vintage footage and costumes will be on display to provide a glimpse into the past life of an art form that is enjoying a resurgence in today’s modern world.
A little about the artist featured:
The power of burlesque is rooted in the charisma the performer exerts over the audience. On stage, the artist controls the illusion of what is and is not revealed. As artists, the burlesque community is quick to block general photography, which makes the attendance of a performance a one-of-a-kind event. Leland Bobbé, alongside his wife Robin Bobbé, worked collaboratively with burlesque performers to craft images which removed them from the stage and served to highlight the formalized essence of their character as individuals and as a persona. Bobbé’s photographs further present the spirit behind each performer and the individual approach taken in the art form of burlesque. Nudity is a secondary element to the art and the individual. Part of his project included collecting quotes from the performers, as he realized the importance of having the performer’s voice come through his photographs. One of Bobbé’s subjects, Ms. Tickle, is quoted as saying, “Burlesque is about revealing something. It is not necessarily a body; we just use our body as a way to reveal something. We may be revealing something about how we feel about our place in society or how we see the world.” The photographs on display during The Nudie Artist: Burlesque Revived at the Museum of Sex are from a larger series of images by Leland Bobbé. His photographs exhibit an honest grittiness, capturing a diverse array of body types portraying confidence and comfort in one’s own skin rather than an airbrushed representation of fantasy. With some of the images printed at a larger than life scale, the viewer can have a relationship with the portrait on a personal and direct level, mimicking the dynamic of the performance.
Inspired by the beauty, creativity and spectacle of New York’s burlesque community, Luma Rouge uses her background in dance and fashion, combined with her own creative instincts, to capture the movement and intensity of performers and their acts. Sketching at a wide spectrum of dance performances, Rouge’s fascination with dance is expressed in her artwork through the technical gestures of the body, the bravado of costuming, the use of props and the application of make-up. Burlesque offered the opportunity for Luma to create images of the human form in an environment where empowerment and adoration reign. A bit of sparkle from every burlesque performance Luma Rouge depicts is dotted across her works of art. The exhibit places her work in context, explaining her ingenuity in painting in dark settings and pulling in lyrics, jokes and banter from the performances, as well as audience commentary, bringing her art to life. One of Rouge’s subjects, Bastard Keith, once said, “Glitter is the STD of Burlesque—once you start, it never goes away.”
Behind the Burly Q: Leslie Zemeckis
Leslie Zemeckis, stage performer, film actress and filmmaker, spent years traveling around the country capturing the histories of the men and women of burlesque’s golden age, the 1930s to the 1950s. By making the film Behind the Burly Q, Zemeckis sought to learn more about the art form of burlesque and the individuals of a bygone era whose craft was undergoing a resurgence over the past few decades. Behind the Burly Q is the result of Zemeckis’ extensive research and an array of interviews with musicians, authors, strippers, novelty acts, club owners, funny men and women which contribute to an intimate, first-hand look at the personalities of burlesque from this era. Well-known performers such as Tempest Storm, Blaze Starr and Dixie Evans, as well as lesser known performers whose stories had never before been captured, are highlighted in Behind the Burly Q. In one scene, Alan Alda vividly describes what it was like growing up in burlesque at the side of his father, the singer Robert Alda. The film spotlights Alda and several other relatives and family members of burlesque performers, who help to enliven the stories of this generation.