When Laura Henkel first opened Sin City Art Gallery, she only had 250 square feet to execute her vision—not exactly a lot with which to work. Out of necessity, her annual celebration of everything erotic, sizzling and sensual, aptly titled 12 Inches of Sin, required art submissions to be 12 inches or smaller. But these days, no such space constraint exists; last year, Henkel procured the festival a much larger footprint at New Orleans Square inside Commercial Center (35,000 square feet), where it remains for the 2018 edition.
Henkel’s new, permanent 3,000 square-foot gallery shares space with other creative outlets in the Square, like Happy Earth Market and the Sin Sity Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. But for two nights, the entire center will be transformed into an extension of her gallery for the 12 Inches of Sin festival and juried art exhibition. The fest kicks off Friday, May 11, and features a mix of local and out-of-state artists exhibiting their sex-tinged creations, followed by a cabaret show called Insertion ($30), featuring burlesque sideshow and drag performances. Best in Show winner Eric Wallis is bringing 70 works from Salt Lake City. Las Vegan Ruel James is showing several sculptures. Husband-wife team Ali Fathollahi and Nanda Sharifpour, both UNLV art students, will display an immersive video installation.
“What makes the exhibition and the festival so wonderful is that there really isn’t any censorship, so for me it’s exciting to see what they’re going to create and do,” Henkel says, adding that over the years the exhibit has naturally progressed from hitting audiences over the head with sexuality to a more conceptual definition of sex. “It really engages you—why is this erotic?”
It could be something as simple as a color that creates an uptick in your pulse, or a video installation that leaves you feeling, um, tingly. “I love the fact that it’s gone far beyond the limitation [of being] highly eroticized and constrained to being extremely playful and experimental, and still have that provocative edge,” Henkel says.
The festivities continue on Saturday, May 12 with a number of sex- and gender-focused workshops and lectures starting at 1 p.m. Workshops (prices range from free to $25) include a pole-dancing class, a course in genderqueer fashion, burlesque 101 and a Japanese rope bondage class. The evening closes with a special performance by local performance-art band Tippy Elvis ($30), and all money raised from the fest will go to the Sin Sity Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program.
“It’s going to have this really great vibe of creativity and synergy,” Henkel says. “It’s really cool to allow the artists just to have fun without any limitations. It’s about community, and art brings that all together.”
12 Inches of Sin Festival May 11, 7 p.m.-midnight; May 12, 1 p.m.-midnight; exhibits free. 900 Karen Ave., 12ofsin.com.