“What is art?” Such an obtusely academic inquiry would ordinarily be a one-way ticket to useless undergraduate naval-gazing. So in the interest of preserving ink, I’ll simply posit the following obviously inadequate definition: Art is the use of physical forms – oil adhering to canvas, strings vibrating in air or bodies standing on stage – to transmit subjective sensations from artist to observer. We usually assume the messages manifested are meant for the recipient’s upper torso: intellectual ideas aimed at the head, emotional imagery intended for the heart or visceral shocks sent to the stomach.
But who is to say that art can’t aim a little lower, physiologically speaking? Last week, I went on a journey to two very different worlds, both trying in their own way to elevate experiences often dismissed as déclassé. And while the elite establishment may persist in pooh-poohing these productions as puerile or primal, I came away with nothing but good vibrations.
The folks behind Gallery Luxuria, a new high-end adult store at the Fairvilla Megastore on Orange Blossom Trail, have obviously studied what’s expected of a high-end art opening in Orlando:
Slick invitations sent to influential members of the local community? Check!
Bartenders pouring plastic cups of complimentary alcohol? Check!
Bountiful buffet of fancy free food, from sushi and king crab to chocolate truffles? Check!
Musician Joseph Martens strumming through a selection of love songs? Check!
In almost every way, the gallery’s grand opening last week felt familiar to anyone who attends area art events. Familiar, that is, as long as you ignored the lingerie-clad mannequins, racks of raunchy DVDs and comprehensive condom collection. Fairvilla, Orlando’s original upscale adult-entertainment emporium, has completed a round of renovations by unveiling another intimacy-industry innovation. As Debra Peterson, Fairvilla’s director of marketing, told me during a personal tour of the store, this latest endeavor grew out of a desire to “create something that has never been done before in our industry.” The Gallery Luxuria is a showcase, located along a balcony overlooking the existing store’s main room, dedicated to the “technology and artistry” of the newest generation of sexual playthings.
For those who’ve never been to Fairvilla, it’s not the shadowy, skeezy sex shop you might have in mind. This store is so clean, bright and cheerful that you might not be embarrassed to bring your mother along for a visit. (Disclaimer: Results may vary. Consult your mother’s physician first.) Gallery Luxuria elevates sex-toy display to an art form, with gleaming museum-style cases that would look at home housing a Swarovski collection. But instead of containing crystalline curios, these cases boast ben wa balls, prostate massagers and the most astounding assortment of designer dildos seen outside New York City’s Museum of Sex. There’s an elaborate LED-lit display of Jo-brand personal lubricants; a retrospective on the evolution of the vibrator featuring the famous Vibratex Rabbit; Jejoue’s “Sasi” learning vibrator (it remembers your preferred movements); and even Simply Blown handmade glass toys that look like you could smoke a bowl out of them following foreplay. The crown jewel of the collection is the LELO Inez, an 18-karat gold-plated phallus available for only $13,500.
If inspecting objects like the Renga Flip Hole (“the first masturbator that opens itself completely for easy cleaning!”) inspires you to avert your eyes in embarrassment, you can cast them upward to look at the modest collection of erotic artwork on display. The gallery currently features photographs by Jesse “Walker1812” Walker; his image “Emotional Baggage” of a naked woman folded in a suitcase certainly made me do a double-take. I didn’t end up buying anything on offer (not that that’s any of your business), but it’s hard not to come a way from Gallery Luxuria with a few frisky ideas for free.
The following morning, I headed to Tampa to experience an entirely different sort of pelvic stimulation. With three world-class roller coasters, Busch Gardens has long been Central Florida’s coaster capital. But even dedicated thrill-ride fans have derided Gwazi, the park’s wooden coaster, as a painfully rough ride. Despite innovative elements like near-miss flybys and highly banked turns, Gwazi became so spine-twistingly jerky that I usually bypassed it.
Last week, Busch unveiled the results of a long-awaited rehab that is more like a rebirth. Original ride builder Great Coasters International returned for some much needed track repair and to deliver new GCI Millennium Flyer trains that transform Gwazi from agonizing to enjoyable. While the original dual-axle cars couldn’t navigate curves without clattering, GCI’s new single-axle design handles turns more smoothly than Top Gear’s Stig. Combined with low-slung sides and well-padded seats, the new trains made Gwazi comfortable enough to ride three times in a row, something my back could never bear before.
Sadly, the silly seat belts that frequently slow loading procedures to a standstill are still in place. GCI representative Bob Dean confessed that lap-bar restraints render the belts pointless, and their presence is simply to reduce liability-insurance costs. “You’ll never see them in Europe,” he said.
Even so, I’m finally adding Gwazi to my must-ride list; while no wooden coaster can really be called “smooth,” this one finally rumbles me in all the right ways.