What do pudgy middle-class Americans, painted donkeys, floppy hats and topless bars have in common? Tijuana, of course! Opening in the Project Room as part of the Santa Monica Museum of Art's new slate of exhibitions (alongside shows from Al Taylor and Daniel Cummings) is The Donkey Show, an installation of vernacular photography, vintage ephemera and curated soundtracks organized by Taschen's Los Angeles: Portrait of a City co-author Jim Heimann and music writer/USC professor Josh Kun. The titillating and comical exhibition brings together 130 years of two parallel Mexican-vacation tropes — the ubiquitous, ridiculous and seemingly arbitrary custom of tourists having their picture taken while sporting sombreros and awkwardly seated on donkeys; and the seedier, more persistent (though never proven) urban legend about the secret world of orgiastic Tijuana sex shows. From tarted-up film portrayals to pulp fiction, suggestive travel literature to uncomfortable but innocent family snapshots, dark and dangerous fantasies to fraternity pranks and bad sunburns, the exploration of these overlapping cultural memes unfolds through hundreds of images and souvenirs, as well as a bouncy selection of popular music inspired by them.

Fri., Jan. 21, 7-9 p.m.; Tuesdays-Sundays. Starts: Jan. 21. Continues through April 16, 2011

LA Weekly