'Gabinetto Segreto III,' opening today, includes nearly 90 erotic pieces from around 40 artists

Erotic art can be created to titillate, sure. But it can also challenge stereotypes, champion body positivity and explore issues of gender, race and culture.

Now in its third iteration, “Gabinetto Segreto,” which opens at the Vanderelli Room during Franklinton Fridays on Aug. 9, features contributions from around 40 artists that explore the diverse world of kink and the myriad issues that can exist within it. In one piece, for example, illustrator Paula Jackson depicts a woman covered in plastic wrap alongside fish carcasses, perhaps commenting on the way the female form is often consumed in media and advertising. Nearby, a series of paintings by W. Ralph Walters champion nude figures that are not typically painted on canvas and hung on gallery walls.

“I love that [Walters] paints feminine figures that aren’t necessarily what society would accept as … the idyllic form,” said Megan Fiscus, who joined fellow show curator Alan Reeve for an early August interview at the gallery (pieces in the show were selected by a four-person panel). “He represents real bodies in all his works.”

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Multiple disciplines are displayed in the exhibit, from painting and photography to upholstery (a wildly cartoonish “nipple chair” that looks as if it could exist somewhere in the “Ren & Stimpy” universe) and even plaster casting. Some works are more explicit in nature, while others are more subtle — a range that exists not just within the exhibit but within submissions by individual artists. Felicia DeRosa’s contributions, for instance, include two understated paintings that explore intellectual connections and sexuality in music, respectively, along with a series of plaster casts of the artist’s penis taken prior to undergoing gender reassignment surgery. Each mold is wrapped in a different color of fabric depicting the stripes of the transgender pride flag.

“It’s not just the forms of the art and what they display, but the emotionality of it, too, the connection that’s in it,” Fiscus said. “We want different subject matters displayed so that everything has a space.”

This meant that the four-person panel occasionally had to revisit its own perspectives and prejudices. A pair of cartoonish illustrations covered in oozing pus and fluids was initially rejected, then eventually reconsidered when it was brought to the attention of the four that there was a fetish community centered on sexual discharges.

“We want to create a dialogue with people. … When you have a fetish, society tells you it’s not normal, and you need to hide that,” Reeve said. “I wonder how many people are suffering because they can’t talk to anybody about these things and just enjoy them and be mature adults about it.”

Above all, “Gabinetto Segreto” is designed to be a safe space in which these conversations and reflections can occur. In a Facebook post discussing the event, gallery owner Alicia Vanderelli wrote, “The takeaway from this exhibition is this... do not be ashamed of who you are. Educate yourself and learn how to safely explore your kink without harming others or yourself. Do not ever harm anyone with your kink (mentally or physically) and keep it age appropriate.”