The West Hollywood location of Circus of Books was, from the 1960s until it shuttered on February 9, 2019, a gay mecca.
The shop (and a Silver Lake satellite location) was dripping with porn and a hot spot for cruising of the free and paid variety, all of which were important parts of gay culture. Who, living in or passing through L.A., doesn't have a Circus of Books story, whether it be too off-color to tell in front of Mom or simply involving the discovery of a cherished, racy volume?
Now that it's gone forever, the owners' (Karen and Barry Mason) daughter, performance artist Rachel Mason, has directed a doc, Circus of Books, about the social phenomenon. Her film will play the Tribeca Film Fest April 26, 27 and 28; two of the three dates are already only available on stand-by.
Leading up to that engagement, an exhibit — also entitled Circus of Books — is loitering at 127 Henry St. courtesy of David Fierman. Curated with Mason, the show recreates the feel of the store by displaying high (and some low, but all desirable) art on wire racks in a tiny space conducive to frotteurism (aka sexual assault in 2019 terms). Seriously, though, the show consists of dozens of priced-to sell original prints by beefcake greats Bob Mizer and David Hurles; original pieces by such luminaries as Jack Pierson, Michael Stipe, Jimmy Wright, Charles Hovland, Tom of Finland (the only original is not for sale) and Ron Athey; and even avant-garde knick-knacks like Circus of Books tees.
The effect is perv chic, and I've heard things are selling faster than a new blond on the busiest block downtown.
Opening night was mobbed, leaving me with several memorable scenes, including an impossibly young female hipster waving a snapshot of a gigantic penis and asking the price. If you have to ask, honey, you can't afford not to buy it.
Full list of artists represented: Wilder Alison, Ron Athey, Adam Baran, Bengala, Erik Bergrin, Michael Bilsborough, Raynes Birkbeck, Seth Bogart, Chris Bogia, Kathe Burkhart, Deric Carner, Chivas Clem, Scott Covert, Vaginal Davis, Anne Doran, Thomas Dozol, Zackary Drucker, Rhys Ernst, Ruben Esparza, Tom of Finland, Karen Finley, Benjamin Fredrickson, ektor garcia, Mariah Garnett, Mark Golamco, Jeff Grant, Michelle Handelman, Charles Hovland, Scott Hug, David Hurles, Stephen Irwin, William E. Jones, Wayne Koestenbaum, Mike Kuchar, Bruce LaBruce, Dawn Mellor, Lucas Michael, Billy Miller, Bob Mizer, David Mramor, Narcissister, Dominic Nurre, Mel Ottenberg, Jack Pierson, Breyer P-Orridge, Pre-Echo Press, Fay Ray, Mariah Robertson, Dean Sameshima, Stuart Sandford, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Margie Schnibbe, Michael Stipe, Chris E. Vargas, Mark Verabioff, Jan Wandrag, Karlheinz Weinberger, Jimmy Wright, Dorian Wood.
The show is a tremendous tribute to the already-very-missed bookstore, which itself was a sturdy hold-out in an era in which Grindr, among other innovations, has been killing off all other forms of gay social interaction and expression, proving — yet again — that there is no replacement for showing up in person to see things (in this case, art) and do things (in this case, hopefully buy some of it).
Check out Circus of Books at Fierman between now and May 6.