A Sin By Any Other Name

Laura Henkel’s renamed Sin City Gallery pushes the boundaries of fine art

It’s a bit surprising that, until now, an art exhibition space in Las Vegas hasn’t yet been named “Sin City Gallery,” but that’s exactly what Laura Henkel is re-branding her eponymous fine art gallery inside the Arts Factory. While she realizes the name may not resound immediately with locals leery of such apparent triteness, Henkel says the name has unmistakable appeal for visitors to Vegas.

“It’s going to be very sophisticated and the name is very international,” she says. And she has the credentials to know. Henkel holds a doctorate of philosophy and doctorate of human sexuality from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality.

The re-christened Sin City Gallery launched Feb. 4, during First Friday, with Dream Menagerie, an exhibit by Los Angeles-based erotic photographer Steve Diet Goedde. It’s the opening salvo in Henkel’s mission to bridge the gap between erotic and fine art—two worlds that she has straddled during her dual curatorial duties at the Erotic Heritage Museum and her Arts Factory space. While she initially opened Laura Henkel Fine Art to delve into her own artistic interests outside the purview of museum owner Exodus Trust (with whom she parted ways in September), she says “the gallery ended up being about the museum” nonetheless.

“I’m doing a happy medium now between the museum and the gallery,” Henkel says, “and that’s what Sin City is about.” That “happy medium” means pushing the boundaries of what may be considered tasteful for your average art patron. Her 2011 lineup of exhibits at Sin City Gallery includes American Shunga by Geonnie Gray Banner, which mashes up traditional Japanese erotic art with digitally manipulated photography; an underwater photography exhibit by Karima Cherif (co-produced by San Francisco’s Femina Potens); and perhaps most radically, Multiples, a collection of artwork by serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who took up painting during his years in prison awaiting execution. Proceeds from the Gacy show will benefit the National Center for Victims of Crime and the 18b Art District, and Henkel is planning an academic lecture series also tied into the exhibit.

“I wanted to creative something positive from something that was horrific,” Henkel says.

Every two months, the exterior of Sin City Gallery will feature a mural painted by a Las Vegas-based artist. “The wall is a freedom of expression and anything goes,” Henkel says. “I feel a kinship with muralists and urban artists as their work is typically censored, much like erotic art. Eroticism does not necessarily mean explicit. It can be the reflection of light, color that depicts a mood or feeling that can be highly erotic.”

The first, “Like a Sheep Out of Water,” was created by arts collective Three Bad Sheep—Alexander “Sky” Carranza, Eddie Canumay and Alexander P. Huerta. The blue-hued mural features the trio’s distinctive mixed-media approach to visual art: multisensory overload. Future muralists on deck include KD Matheson, Crystal Solis and Damien Drake.

Inside the gallery, locals will also be given an artistic platform. Photographers Ryan Reason and Jennifer Maupin will team up in June for an exhibition of sensual photography called Anticipation. Matheson will launch a show inside the gallery the same month his mural debuts, March, with Memes, and while his richly detailed, surreal creations might not be traditionally viewed as sexual in nature, Henkel has a different take on them.

“I find KD’s work to be so erotic,” she says. “It’s not in your face at all.”

Henkel hopes that Sin City Gallery can act as a vehicle for people to open up and discuss topics they might otherwise avoid. She’s even talking to book dealers about having rare erotic books for sale at the gallery. At the same time, Henkel is cognizant of ensuring her gallery is “appealing to everyone.”

“I look at the art as an educational tool,” Henkel says. “But I want people to have fun. I want people to start appreciating who they are.”