Connect with us
[adrotate group="1"]

Art news

Netflix Documentary ‘Circus of Books’ Tells the Story of a Mom and Pop Gay Porn Store in LA

In a comic reversal of the usual roles, it’s the parents hiding the porn from their children in Circus of Books, the new documentary by artist, musician, and filmmaker Rachel Mason. The follow-up to her 2013 debut feature The Lives of Hamilton Fish—an experimental musical inspired by two historical contemporaries who shared the same name—Circus…

Published

on

Netflix Documentary ‘Circus of Books’ Tells the Story of a Mom and Pop Gay Porn Store in LA

In a comic reversal of the usual roles, it’s the parents hiding the porn from their children in Circus of Books, the new documentary by artist, musician, and filmmaker Rachel Mason. The follow-up to her 2013 debut feature The Lives of Hamilton Fish—an experimental musical inspired by two historical contemporaries who shared the same name—Circus of Books, streaming on Netflix, offers a heartfelt and comparatively conventional portrait of Mason’s parents, Karen and Barry, and the titular pair of gay adult bookstores they ran in Los Angeles for over thirty years. Featuring extensive interviews with and footage of the Masons, their two sons (who, like their daughter, were kept in the dark throughout their childhood about the true nature of their parents’ business), their former employees, and various others, the documentary follows a familiar “rise and fall” arc: from the unlikely career change the couple embarked on as new parents to the bookstore’s meteoric success amid the AIDS epidemic and the Reagan administration’s crusade against pornography to, finally, its decline in the age of the internet.

Related Articles

The Mason family has more than enough psychosexual drama to fill the film’s eighty-six-minute running time. The imperturbably affable Barry takes his cues (sometimes quite literally) from the strong-willed Karen, a more complex and less consistently sympathetic figure. While Barry is not religious, Karen is a practicing Conservative Jew, and seems to have dealt with her shame about working in the adult industry by attempting to make her family as picture-perfect as possible. Their three children responded to this pressure in different ways: Micah, about whom we learn the least, says that the force of his mother’s expectations made him quiet; Rachel rebelled by becoming an artist and embracing all things countercultural; and Josh, who is gay, suffered from a textbook case of “Best Little Boy in the World” syndrome, sublimating his anxiety about his sexuality into academic and athletic achievement. When he came out to his parents in college—after several failed attempts—Karen told him, as she herself recalls in the film, that God must be punishing her.

Still from Circus of Books, 2019.
Courtesy Netflix.

Circus of Books is at its best when it lets itself be a film about the complicated character that is Karen Mason, a woman whose business acumen is matched by—and perhaps predicated on—profound self-delusion. Although it was Karen who suggested that Barry become a distributor of Larry Flynt’s Hustler magazine in the first place—a move that catalyzed their eventual entry into the world of gay porn—she displays a rather impressive amount of cognitive dissonance concerning their chosen profession, while Barry seems to have never had any qualms about it. Even when they expanded their business and began producing hardcore films of their own, Karen says, “It never felt like we were getting into pornography. We were just getting into a different business that was related to the business we were already in.” Besides, she protests (a bit too much), they never watched the movies they made.

The documentary has less to say about the community of which the Circus of Books stores were ostensible centers. Though the former employees make for an entertaining Greek chorus of talking heads, and there are a few fun stories about the bookstores’ (secondary?) function as cruising sites, most of the gay people in this film about gay bookstores are peripheral to the story of the nuclear family at its heart. While crafting a moving and quite watchable narrative, Circus of Books never really examines the delicate symbiosis between that family and the community whose patronage—and labor—supported them for decades.
The movie’s last act interweaves the final days of the original West Hollywood location in early 2019 (the other store, in Silverlake, closed in 2016) with Karen’s transformation decades earlier into a proud PFLAG parent who speaks at meetings and marches in the local Pride parade with Barry. While I found myself tearing up at Karen’s admission that “parents are only smart for a small window of time”—and moved by her dedication to helping others accept their LGBTQ children—the film, in its hurry to a half-happy ending, glosses over how, exactly, her transformation came to be, and doesn’t delve into how Karen squares her celebration of gay people with her continued discomfort with gay sex.

Still from Circus of Books, 2019.
Courtesy Netflix.

In the end, I found myself wanting Mason’s charming, well-composed film to probe a little deeper. Her dynamic with her mother never comes into focus the way Josh’s does, for instance, though it makes for some of the most compelling scenes—when out in the world, or at the store, Karen addresses her daughter behind the camera, usually to criticize or complain about Mason’s direction and occasionally to suggest she make her documentary about something else. (The movie opens with footage from a grainy home video in which a younger Karen tells her, “Rachel, this is going to be such a boring tape.”) These moments are compelling precisely because of how real and revealing they are, but the tension between Mason and the primary subject of her film, her mother, is never explicitly addressed (nor, notably, is Mason’s own queer identity or her relationship with a porn actor, Buck Angel). Early in the film, Karen, gesturing toward a wall of dildos at an adult novelty expo, remarks that she’s able to notice what would sell well at her bookstores without having to really look at it. That seems an equally fitting description of Mason’s approach to the questions her documentary brings up but leaves unanswered.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

code

Art news

NYU Will Remove Sackler Name from Graduate Institute, Deana Lawson Wins Hugo Boss Prize, and More: Morning Links from October 23, 2020

To receive Morning Links in your inbox every weekday, sign up for our Breakfast with ARTnews newsletter. News New York University’s Langone Medical Center will remove the Sackler name from its Graduate Biomedical Institute following years of pressure from the student body and artist Nan Goldin’s advocacy organization P.A.I.N. [Hyperallergic] Yesterday Marian Goodman Gallery announced that it would close its London location. In an interview with ARTnews, gallery…

Published

on

By

NYU Will Remove Sackler Name from Graduate Institute, Deana Lawson Wins Hugo Boss Prize, and More: Morning Links from October 23, 2020

To receive Morning Links in your inbox every weekday, sign up for our Breakfast with ARTnews newsletter.
News
New York University’s Langone Medical Center will remove the Sackler name from its Graduate Biomedical Institute following years of pressure from the student body and artist Nan Goldin’s advocacy organization P.A.I.N. [Hyperallergic]
Yesterday Marian Goodman Gallery announced that it would close its London location. In an interview with ARTnews, gallery founder Marian Goodman shared what comes next for the enterprise’s British operation. [ARTnews]

Thirteen women, in interviews with The New York Times, have accused the Iranian celebrity artist, Aydin Aghdashloo, of sexual misconduct over a 30-year-period. [The New York Times]

Related Articles

A New York program that offers perpetrators of minor offenses the opportunity to take an art class at the Brooklyn Museum instead appearing in court, is at risk of defunding. [The Art Newspaper]
Deana Lawson is the first-ever photographer to win Guggenheim Museum’s $100,000 Hugo Boss Prize. [ARTnews]
Artists & Institutions 
After a summer of social and financial turmoil, white-led arts institutions nationwide are reckoning with racism. But what does it take to achieve equity?  [Los Angeles Times]
A show of work by Bruce Nauman at Sperone Westwater Gallery, featuring a new digital artwork activated by an iPad touchscreen, “confirms how sedulously he is still pushing the studio’s limits,” writes Jason Farago. [The New York Times]
Maxwell Alexandre’s first solo show in England is now on view at David Zwirner’s London gallery. Check out some of the work, which centers Rocinha, the Rio de Janeiro favela where he was raised and currently lives, here. [The Paris Review]
Market
Sotheby’s back-to-back modern and contemporary evening sales in Paris and London generated a total of $90.4 million. [Art Market Monitor]
The Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem is facing criticism following the decision to deaccession dozens pieces of art and artifacts at Sotheby’s. [The Art Newspaper]

Continue Reading

Art news

Artist Saul Fletcher Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide

Saul Fletcher, a British-born, Berlin-based artist known for moody images of collaged objects photographed against a plaster wall in his studio, was found dead last week in Berlin what several outlets have reported to have been a murder-suicide. The claims have been circulating in the British and European tabloids since late last week, with the…

Published

on

By

Artist Saul Fletcher Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide

Saul Fletcher, a British-born, Berlin-based artist known for moody images of collaged objects photographed against a plaster wall in his studio, was found dead last week in Berlin what several outlets have reported to have been a murder-suicide. The claims have been circulating in the British and European tabloids since late last week, with the tabloids linking Fletcher with actor Brad Pitt (Fletcher was photographed by paparazzi last year walking around the Venice Biennale with Pitt and sculptor Thomas Houseago).
This morning, the three galleries that represented Fletcher at the time of his death—Anton Kern Gallery in New York, Knust Kunz Gallery Editions in Munich, and Grice Bench in Los Angeles—provided to ARTnews a joint statement regarding the reports: “We are devastated, appalled, and shocked by the tragic loss of Rebeccah Blum and Saul Fletcher. We are all grief-stricken and confused. We offer our deepest condolences to their families and together are offering our support and help.”

Related Articles

Blum is a freelance curator who previously was director of Berlin’s Aurel Scheibler gallery. ARTnews has not been able to independently verify these deaths or the circumstances surrounding them.
According to a Daily Mail article published on July 23, Fletcher confessed to his daughter last Wednesday evening that he had killed a woman, now assumed to be Blum based on the statement of the galleries. Shortly before midnight on Wednesday, according to the Daily Mail, Fletcher’s daughter reported this information to the Berlin police, who subsequently found a woman dead from apparent stab wounds in Fletcher’s apartment. The following morning, Fletcher was found dead in the garden of property he owned near Rochowsee lake, about two hours north of Berlin.
ARTnews has reached out to Berlin law enforcement, but has been unable to verify this reporting at this time.
Fletcher, who was born in 1967 in the village of Barton, on the northeastern coast of England, and was largely self-taught, first came to prominence in the late 1990s when he began showing with New York’s Anton Kern Gallery. In a review of his exhibition at Kern in 2000, New York Times critic Roberta Smith called Fletcher’s photographs “evocative, slightly macabre, sometimes overly precious,” which “appear to be the work of a shut-in working in a nearly empty attic with the occasional cooperation of family members.”

Fletcher’s work has appeared in major international exhibitions as well, including the 30th Bienal de São Paulo in 2012, the 4th Berlin Biennale in 2006, and the 2004 Carnegie International in Pittsburgh. His most recent exhibition at Anton Kern was in 2018. That same year, Inventory Press published a monograph of his work with essays by Ralph Rugoff, curator of the 2019 Venice Biennale, and critic Kirsty Bell.

Continue Reading

Art news

Unprecedented Toppling of Monument to Slave Trader Shocks British Art World

Until his statue was toppled by Black Lives Matter protesters on Sunday, few people outside Bristol had heard of Edward Colston. Dramatic images of the protests held in the British city show the bronze sculpture of Colston being torn down and thrown into the harbor of the historic port city. But the felling of the…

Published

on

By

Unprecedented Toppling of Monument to Slave Trader Shocks British Art World

Until his statue was toppled by Black Lives Matter protesters on Sunday, few people outside Bristol had heard of Edward Colston. Dramatic images of the protests held in the British city show the bronze sculpture of Colston being torn down and thrown into the harbor of the historic port city. But the felling of the monument to the merchant, whose fortune was earned from the transatlantic slave trade he helped establish in the late 17th century, is just one part of a fierce and reignited debate about public art honoring problematic figures that’s being waged in Britain right now.

“I’ve recorded uprisings since the 1980s, but I was slightly stunned,” said artist John Akomfrah, referring to images on social media of the Bristol demonstration, which was peaceful, like many other protests across the U.K. “There is a remarkable irony. [Colston] has ended up in the place where he put hundreds of lives”—the harbor where bodies of enslaved Africans were thrown overboard during the infamous Middle Passage.

Related Articles

Colston was a leading member of the Royal African Company, which had a monopoly on the slave trade in the late 17th century. “There’s no sympathy from me about his plight,” Akomfrah said.
The merchant’s statue, which was unveiled in 1895 when the British Empire was at the peak of its power, has long been a source of division in the city. Attempts to add a contextual plaque referring to the philanthropist’s role in the slave trade had reached a political and bureaucratic impass, prompting demonstrators to take matters in their own hands last weekend.
“I was amazed. It was the kind of thing I never thought I’d see in my lifetime,” said Hew Locke, a London-based sculptor who lived in Bristol in the 1980s. “This piece has been on my mind as a problem for years,” he told ARTnews. “Colston wasn’t a bad man. The language was wrong. He was an evil man. That’s the truth of it.”
John Cassidy’s sculpture has been derided as a poor work of art, but Locke disagrees with that assessment. “Aesthetically, it was one of Bristol’s best Victorian sculptures,” Locke said. In 2006, to pay homage to the sculpture’s history, Locke bedecked a large-scale photograph of the Colston monument with the trappings of his wealth based on the exploitation of Africans.

It’s unclear right now what will happen to the statute. Marvin Rees, the Mayor of Bristol, said on Monday that Cassidy’s sculpture will be “fished out” at some point but vowed that it will never return to its former prominent location. The bronze could be destined for the city’s history museum, MShed, which overlooks Bristol harbor, along with a collection of the Black Lives Matter protestors’ placards.
The fate of Colston’s statue and the Black Lives Matter movement raises awkward questions for other cities in the U.K. On Tuesday, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced a review of all London statues with slavery links. One London’s former docklands now business district of Robert Milligan, a prominent slave trader and plantation owner, has been vandalized and covered in protest placards. On Tuesday, it was revealed that the statue would be removed. And there have been renewed calls to remove or at least recontextualize colonial-era statues, including ones in Cardiff in Wales, Dundee in Scotland, and in Oxford. Since 2016, campaigners have tried to banish the statue of the arch-imperialist of the Victorian era, Cecil Rhodes, at the University of Oxford. (A demonstration is taking place on Tuesday.)
Locke expressed skepticism over whether anything would change. “We will see,” he said. Meanwhile, authorities in Belgium have begun to remove statues of King Leopold II after protests. His colonization of what is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo involved systematic brutality and atrocities.
Some institutions have begun taking accountability for their role in structural racism, but their responses have done little to satisfy critics. Several big London museums, following their peers in the U.S., issued statements of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter protests at the end of last week and over the weekend. The British Museum immediately faced accusations of inaction over decolonizing its collection, which includes colonial-era looted art and human remains. The National Gallery in London also posted on social media its rejection of “racism, inequality and violence” in response to the death of George Floyd while being arrested by police. Anti-racist protestors began gathering in Trafalgar Square a week ago on the art museum’s doorstep despite an ongoing national lockdown due to coronavirus.
For nearly 100 years a bronze statue of George Washington has stood on the gallery’s front lawn, making it one of many public London monuments to “dodgy figures,” as Locke has put it. Presented by the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1924, it is a replica of the marble sculpture by the French 18th-century sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon that stands in the State Capitol building in Richmond. There is no mention on a plaque (or on the National Gallery’s website) that Washington was a slave owner, or that Richmond was the capital of the Confederate States in the U.S. Civil War.
When reached by ARTnews about whether it planned to make that history available, a National Gallery spokesperson claimed it was not the museum’s responsibility to do so, but rather the U.K. government’s. The museum is “looking” to update its website about the biography of its founding collector, John Julius Angerstein, however. Its current page about Angerstein glosses over the uncomfortable truth that much of the art collector’s wealth was based on insurance of ships used in the slave trade. He also had a financial stake in a slave plantation in the Caribbean.
Such a clarification of institutions’ history is becoming more common in the U.K.—Tate, for example, issued a lengthy statement about its founder’s role in the slave trade last year. Locke said that context such as this is necessary for institutions—and, in particular, the monuments in the cities around them. “The sculptures are part of history, but you need some acknowledgement of who these people were,” he said. “You can’t say police brutality is terrible, institutional racism is terrible, and then you don’t want anything to change in your local landscape.”
Locke, like Akomfrah, seemed resigned that the debate about the relocation of colonial-era monuments in the U.K. will now be framed by the government as a question of law and order after Colston’s violent removal. The U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson was quick to condemn the Bristol protestors’ actions claiming that the Black Lives Matters protests have been “subverted by thuggery.” After coming under fire, he toned down his rhetoric but insisted that anyone who harmed property would face “the full force of the law.”
Many in the British art scene—and beyond—are now left with serious quandaries going forward. “Let’s be clear, [Colston] was a mass murder,” Akomfrah said. “He benefited from the misfortune of others. The real question is, why was that statue put up in the first place?”

Continue Reading
error: Content is protected !!