Line 960x3

Contemporary Magazine cover


R. C. Hörsch

By Clayton Campbell

From Contemporary Magazine#76) © 2005 by Art21 Ltd. Reproduced with permission.

A criticism or R.C. Hörsch's installation at the Los Angeles Convention Center.



Outside the cavernous Los Angeles Convention Center the distinct thunder of culture clashing could be heard...

Page Break 960x3

w174 "Riverside Park" © 1996 R.C. Hörsch / Eroto~


Dozens of advertising banners hanging from streetlights trumpeted the impending LA arrival of the travelling blockbuster high art exhibition, "King Tut and the Wonders of Egypt." To the left, the Center's West Hall was hosting the annual "Home Decorating" show. But by far the longest line that was snaking its way into the main door, like a mile-long daisy chain, was there to see "LAXposed," the three-day LA Erotic convention. The audience size dwarfed the attendance of any recent art fair I have been to and probably gave the King Tut show a run for its money.

"LAXposed" is a visual event of sorts, and certainly a cultural event particular to Los Angeles. In aisle after aisle connoisseurs eyed limited edition video products like Big Black Poon Tang, Great Balls on Fire, and Huge Horny Hairy. How these titles are arrived at can be alarmingly literal, as the promotional demos in each vendor's stall attested. In other booths, the sculptural charms of innumerable and utterly impossible sex toys were demonstrated as casually as blenders in the nearby Home Decorating affair.

Page Break 960x3

w499 "Untitled" © 2005 R.C. Hörsch / Eroto~


"All through the day, raised stages presented lusty pole dancers and male stripper extravaganzas to large crowds of men and women enthusiastically cheering on each Chippendale or buff erotic "movement specialist." Pseudo serious academics, giving seminars with titles like "Men and the Proverbial Penis," were holding forth in a makeshift auditorium. There may be something Freudian about the compulsive need of pornography wanting to go "legit," yet there is no question in LA that porn is the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the room. The adult movie business generates more money annually than all Hollywood studio movies combined. Industry stars like Jenna Jamison are out in the open and crossing over in the media, and at "LAXposed" her booth was, not coincidentally, front and centre. Occasionally I would catch a glimpse of a familiar face in the crowd and wave ("isn't that so and so, the director of the contemporary art museum?") and with eyes averted and cap pulled low over their brow they would doge me and disappear into the visual din. But aside from the cultural elite caught slumming, this was an enthusiastic and no bullshit crowd from every multicultural walk of life a modern city has to offer.

Page Break 960x3

w274 "Sated" © 2000 R.C. Hörsch / Eroto~


This was the context for an exhibition of the photography of R. C. Hörsch. Set off to the side from the bustle, this ad-hoc presentation was a bit of a revelation. Hörsch is an ""undiscovered" artist in the conventional fine art world; his biography is more convoluted than a Dickens novel. Beginning as an army deserter, Hörsch went to work on the children's show "Sesame Street," then became a forger of Picasso etchings and hundred dollar bills, ended up running drugs, went on the lam for years, finally winding up in jail. At some point he became a porn film actor himself by doubling for the infamous Harry Reems, then a director, and throughout it all has been doing some serious still photography. Unlike Andres Serrano's "A History of Sex," where the artist parachutes in and out of the sex trade, Hörsch lives the life and brings a well-travelled authenticity to his work. His sensibility is like that of Danny Lyon and Nan Goldin, and should be viewed in that context.

His first moment of notoriety as a photographer occurred when he juxtaposed high-fashion models with skid-row escorts in magazine spreads. The black humour of sex occurs in the photograph Park Bench (1996): a good-looking model sits on a bench, shirt open, black bra showing, long legs crossed sexily, oozing confidence. A burned-out hulk of a man lies next to her, passed out and oblivious to the tableau he is unwittingly part of. The contrast of the openly sexual woman with the destroyed man might be some kind of psychological motif for themes of domination and diminution in Hörsch's productions. He tells no lies about his own predilections. Men and women trade places in graphic depictions of those grappling with physical extremes.

Page Break 960x3

w341 "Carrie" © 2001 R.C. Hörsch / Eroto~


At ""LAXposed" Hörsch needed a curator to edit his presentations-- there was simply too much to look at. But sifting through what amounted to a survey of his work: images of sex acts, heroin addiction, bondage and cutting reveals the uneasy and challenging relationship Hörsch must have with his models (he occasionally includes himself in the action) and becomes a genuine psycho-sexual dramatic investigation. His ability to push the work beyond its staging evokes method acting, and moves the action towards a kind of madness or fever of imagination.

His recent work is the antithesis of prurience. Heroin Chic Revisited (2001) is a full-length portrait of a standing, naked young woman with a needle hanging from her arm. She died within three weeks of the photo. It is a searing image, a far cry from the glossy C-prints of impossible bodies and porn stars that currently populate the commercial galleries (such as the Triple XXX" exhibition at Mary Boone in New York). Slab (2000), in which a young woman lies face-up on a morgue slab, dead and changing colour, is not something easily forgotten. The picture is weirdly pre-Raphaelite in its suggestions of dead young women and necrophilia.

The steady progression of Hörsch's photographic imagery is not indulgent, and he must arrive at them through a strenuous personal journey and intense commitment to authenticity. He really would have to know first-hand the milieu he takes his inspiration from to make images this direct. That said, it is a choice --not one that other artists will or should ever make-- but it is uniquely Hörsch''s, and is a good reason for paying attention to what he is doing.

  Rant, Rave, Comment and Review!  Comment!