Beauty, much like obscenity, is in the eye of the beholder. The beholder looks upon either with a discriminating eye and determines if what he sees is a rosebud or an extortionately pristine asshole. In 2005, Rick Castro opened Antebellum Gallery, the only fine-art gallery in the U.S. dedicated strictly to fetishes and fetish culture.
Over the past five years, following an ambitious exhibition schedule, Castro has showcased artists as diverse as David Hockney and Robert Mapplethorpe, gay-cheesecake illustrator Tom of Finland, sideshow-oddity chronicler Joel-Peter Witkin and serial killer John Wayne Gacy. In the process, he has unveiled seminal — so to speak — images site-specific to Los Angeles fetish culture, including physique photographer John Palatinus, infamous '80s queer/fetish/noise venue Club Fuck! and the venerable chestnut of L.A. punk rock photos dating from 1977 to 1987. Back then, encountering fetish culture was as intimidating as anything imaginable for the square and the unenlightened.
Is there a particular kink that's showcased most often at Antebellum?
"I am equal-opportunity — anything can be fetishized, anything is fetishized, so I will have endless themes," Castro says. "Keep in mind that fetishes aren't always explicitly erotic or sexual — there's the tribal fetishes, Native American fetishes. Some of those Native American fetishes are really beautiful. The actual origin of fetish was that of projecting power onto an object and giving the object a spirit."
What does he find erotic?
"Oh, well, I find pretty much everything in life erotic, but if you're asking what my fetish is, I'm a bondage enthusiast and I've been so since I was maybe ... 5?"
When charting out his own fetishes, does he analyze them in terms of the essence of the thing to which he responds most, or does he just go with it?
"Well, over the years, sure — when I was younger, it wasn't anything that I could articulate, but one of the reasons I opened the gallery was that I felt I was the appropriate person to present fetish to the mainstream. I see fetish that's very much a part of 21st-century culture — I think this is the era of fetish.
"Freud defined fetish in the late 19th century and there's been very strong fetish references throughout the 20th century. But I think now is when the general person is really open to accepting kink as something that's part of who they are as a human being and it's not a perversion. It's a very interesting aspect of sexuality. It's a very interesting aspect of a person's personality.
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"Each individual person hones down what their fetish is — but everybody has at least one."