At some point between cringing at a severely loungy remix of NIN and almost spilling our photographer’s beer into his bag, I realize the Fuck yeah! painting glowing in the Pumps “champagne room” is a Noah Becker and that’s not what Noah Becker paintings usually look like. But art exhibits don’t usually pop up at strip clubs.

And burlesque show MCs don’t usually make jokes being spanked bare-assed by a schoolmarm in elementary school and suicide. “We all care about her frankly gorgeous suicide attempts,” she says, shaking her black tulle poof tail. Giggle giggle.

For the second “Pumped Up” art show at Pumps bar in East Williamsburg, curator Aubrey Roemer had simple requirements — make it sexy and have it glow when backlit. It wasn’t so much that the work was out of place, but something was off. The rough topless portrait hung on a sheet blocking the mirror behind the occupied stripper poles, preventing a drunk illusion that the club went on-n-n-n and the low stage behind the bar was a magical blurry troth. Shut up. It’s been awhile since the last time I skipped in there… Shortly after the art show reception, half the flowery sheet got pulled down by a singing stripper mid a sirenesque ”I want to be FUCKED by you. Just you. No other dick will do!”

Artist Joe Heaps Nelson bopped around, asking “Did you see the surprise?” He lifted the flap of his day-glo-ish nude, taped over another mirror, grinning. A big dick popped up. “It’s a surprise.”

There’s a game fixed into another wall, it’s goal being tapping a naked horse rider’s arched out crotch until she projectile orgasms at a pursuing cop car, making her galloping getaway. The paintings splattered throughout are happily dark and cartoonish — pin-up portraiture styled, but distorted and washed out and smiling madly. There’s an element of crudeness to everything from brushstrokes to backlit marker dribbles to the peeling tape to the level to the expressions in paintings, in patrons, and later, in performers.

Another wobble through the exhibit and, as another drink kicks in, the novelty is begining to wear off. Then, staring at a cartoonish pen on lined paper drawing of one of the Pumps girls, I get a flashbacks into staring giant, perfect photo-realistically painted eyes of porn star Sasha Grey at the Richard Philips exhibit in the Gagosian. I remember how removed it all felt, how chronically dissociative. Philips must have thought he was such a cad, recontextualizing PORN the bluest of blue chip galleries. Seems rather silly now. Nah, this is cool. It’s like I’m looking at nature landscape paintings in nature. But like, with strippers. At a strip club.

What happens when you take the tease out of burlesque? When you know that if you stick around a few more hours, the spinning, flaming pasties will come off and the amazingly good singing will cease and the local folkore-ish satire of “I’m so happy, I’m in love with a broke musician from Brooklyn!” is forgotten? When the line between hobbyist burlesque and working dancer becomes clearly illuminated?

Life! Also, stripping. There’s a perfect closed loop between subject, context and content and it’s pulsating in pink and purple. 

(Photos and video: Tod Seelie/ANIMALNewYork)