Gustav Klimt once declared, “All art is erotic.” People have been pondering the meaning of that brief statement for over a century. The discussion over what defines erotica has been going on for much longer, with varying degrees of acceptability. Is it pornography, or is it something more? The one thing we can all agree on, is that the word erotica is subjective. No matter what your reasoning, you either like it, or you don’t.
Merriam-Webster defines erotica as literary or artistic works that deal with subject matter that is stimulating or arousing, but it doesn’t just have to be about the libido or the genitals. Like all art, erotica is meant to simulate the brain and to make us see things from a different perspective. It is a depiction of humanity at its most sublime. It is a release of inhibition.
The one thing erotica has always been about is sensuality. Good erotic art will relay some sort of message about the human condition. It will use sometimes shocking imagery to convey such complex human emotions as abandon, subjugation, loneliness, freedom, acceptance and vulnerability. It is, in a sense, a casting-off of the shackles imposed upon us by morality and social shame, to reveal the true self. How you deal with those revelations may have more to do with you than it does with the art in question.
To get a better understanding of the place erotic art occupies in southern New Mexico, it’s best to go to a local expert on the subject. Dennis Lujan is that expert. A lifelong artist whose work – both traditional and erotic – can be seen in galleries and private collections across the country, he has also been the curator of the annual Erotica show since 2015. The former owner of the In Effect Gallery in the Mesquite neighborhood of Las Cruces, he now opens up his home in Mesilla Park twice a year for the Erotica Show in February, and a more traditional art show in May.
“The criteria for this show has always been sensual,” Lujan says. “I wanted to take For (the) Love of Art month to a new level, because there’s a side of Love that is overlooked. I wanted to show what could be done with that concept of Love. I was so surprised to find that many of the prominent artists here had done stuff on the side that they couldn’t exhibit in local galleries. I wanted to provide a space where they could show that stuff. Nobody else does that here.”
Attracting artists from all across the region, including Truth or Consequences, Socorro, El Paso, Hillsboro and Caballo, Lujan takes a hands-off approach to selection. When asked what he looks for, he says, “I have an open-door policy. Some artists do ceramics, some papier-mâché, oils, acrylics, watercolors, mixed media, jewelry. It’s always fresh. It’s always new. I cannot be a judge or a juror. I’m always excited to see what comes in, as long as there is no degradation or pornography. If an artist walks through my doors with work, they’re in the show, so long as their work follows the rules.”
What, then, does Dennis consider sensual?
“Sensuality is really indefinable,” he admits, but it’s clear he’s had this conversation before. “Photography can be sensual. Collages can be sensual. Watercolors can be sensual. Good erotica provokes thought and discussion. What is it? It’s intimate and it’s edgy. What does it mean to you? It’s personal and it’s primal. How do you react? It could be gritty, it could be sexy, it could be pretty, it could be subtle, the viewer might not even get it, but if it makes them think, and argue, it’s doing its job.”
It's that love of provocative, sensual art that propels Lujan to create the event of the season.
“There’s nothing else like it,” he says. “Everybody talks about it long after the show closes. Is it just because of the subject matter? I don’t know, but I don’t think so. This show only comes around once a year, and we get a lot of people through the door.”
Erotica, it seems, will always have an audience. It’s something that needs to be experienced to be understood. Discussions are optional, but highly recommended.
The Erotica 2024 opening reception takes place Friday, Feb. 9, 2024, from 6 – 10 p.m., at 3390 Apple Cross Place in Mesilla Park. Additional showings are Saturday and Sunday, February 10, and 11, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and by appointment through the end of the month.