“My favorite is the one where she’s tied down with an exhaust pipe coming out of her mouth,” a patron commented at Japanese erotic artist Hajime Sorayama’s packed opening at the Tamara Bane Gallery. Sorayama’s extreme revisionist paintings of pinup girls wrestling with raping octopuses, fondling robotic phalluses and offering the occasional golden shower drew a crowd of 800-plus, many of whom lined up patiently to get well-fondled copies of his art books (e.g., The Gynoids) signed. The crush demonstrated Sorayama’s success in straddling the hardcore and the mainstream in erotic art. His Bettie Page– and Vargas Girl–inspired subjects, clad in vinyl, chrome and not much else, appear monthly in the pages of Penthouse; one of his robo-chicks is on the cover of the new Aerosmith album, Just Push Play; and he helped design the award-winning Sony AIBO robot-dog. One of his paintings, of a vinyl-clad woman sporting both a removable head and a chrome penis, recently sold on the Web for $10,500.
Sorayama’s appearance drew a new kind of crowd to L.A.’s gallery scene. Porn director Ed Powers, who would be hosting his 97.1 FM sex-talk show, Bed Time Stories, from the gallery later in the evening, found the art “very penetrating.” Amazonian sex symbol and Sorayama muse Julie Strain pointed to her multiple images on the wall and announced, “It’s like I’ve died and gone to sex heaven.” Meanwhile, the bespectacled Sorayama smiled politely from behind a big marble table, his translator at his side. We asked him if he came to L.A. because it was hard to show such sexually graphic art in conservative Japan. True, the translator confirmed, but also, here in L.A., “I can swim,” Sorayama confided. —Susannah Breslin
“Why are you taking this tour?” I ask the young guy behind me as we await our walk-through of the Getty House, Los Angeles’ official mayoral residence.
“Oh, it’s something to do on a Saturday,” he responds.
“Today’s Sunday,” I remind him.
We’re lined up in front of the residence, at 605 S. Irving Blvd. in Hancock Park–adjacent Windsor Square. Mayor Tom Bradley lived here for 16 years, but Mayor Richard Riordan decided to remain in his own not-insubstantial Brentwood home and use Getty House for official functions — but first he spiffed it up. He created the private nonprofit Getty House Foundation and appointed his wife, Nancy Daly Riordan, its chairperson. Now, for the two weeks preceding the April 10 mayoral primary, the public may tour the house for free (but tickets must be obtained through Ticketmaster; closed Mondays).
A two-story Tudor-style home, cream with green half-timbering, Getty House today has a slightly exposed look — the trees have been recently trimmed. Tours start every half-hour and are run in relays, with a different docent in each room. At the front door is a sandy-haired gentleman named Sandy, who gives the house’s history in brief: Built in 1920 by a Portsmouth restaurateur, it was sold shortly to an oil man named Leslie Lockhart, who lived there only briefly, then rented it out to various people, including John Barrymore’s estranged wife. In 1959, Tidewater Realty, the real estate arm of Getty Oil, purchased most of the block for a corporate headquarters that never materialized. In 1975, Getty Oil deeded the house to the city for an official mayoral residence, and two years later, in 1977, Mayor Bradley moved in.
Sandy hands us over to our next guide, Nancy Daly Riordan herself, who today is docent of the entryway. Slim and poised, she points out the plein air paintings (on loan) and describes how 17 designers and some 500 merchants, volunteers and artists contributed to the Getty House restoration. The mayoral home, I slowly realize, is now a combination designer showcase and protocol house.
“I’m so sad Riordan’s leaving office,” a tourist woman beside me sighs. “He was such a good mayor.”
Now we relay through a series of docents, and discover that, should the new mayor choose to live on these premises, he or she will possess a three-room kitchen (prep kitchen, main kitchen and butler’s pantry) with green-slate countertops, an enormous Viking range and a small library of cookbooks by Los Angeles chefs. The mayor can eat in a small outdoor patio, a breakfast room tented in striped linen, or the dining room proper, with Chippendale reproduction chairs, Sheraton table, Hepplewhite buffet, Aubusson rug, and art by Ed Moses, Ed Ruscha and Richard Diebenkorn. The new mayor will have Limoges porcelain place settings for 72.
There is an official mayoral office, a manly room with dark wood paneling. And overlooking the gardens is a sunny back office — our docent describes it several times as “a woman’s-touch office” — which already, on this mild spring day, is quite warm.
But there’s a cool rumpus room downstairs, oil man Lockhart’s Prohibition-era hideaway. The room still sports carved-oak reliefs in which Lockhart himself — as a kind of adult-headed infant, a true puer — is depicted engaged in his favorite activities: golfing, hunting, drinking.
In the attic, there’s a gym filled with shiny white machines. “This is where our mayor gets vigorous,” says yet another docent. She points out a plexiglass case holding one of the the Olympic torches from 1984 — “the year,” she declares, “that Los Angeles showed the world how to make money — and not just spend it — on the Olympics!”
“Do you think the new mayor will actually live here?” I ask a docent who urges us not to linger over the paintings. “Who knows? Who knows who that will be?” she cries. “That’s why we’ve opened the house to the public at this time — we don’t know what’s going to happen.”
In the second-floor master-bedroom suite, the new mayor’s official bower is a wooden canopy bed (think four-poster with a roof), hand-painted in antiqued ivory with vines and festive red flowers. It resembles nothing so much as some kind of connubial gazebo. One can only wonder who will be the first mayor to make pillow talk in this fussy floral ark.
“I hope it’s Soboroff,” says one of my tour mates. “He has such good ideas about what to do with traffic.”
Yuppification Dulls Silver Lake’s Edge
In Justin Tanner’s 1998 hit theater comedy Coyote Woman, quirky boho characters took pride in the absence of a Starbucks coffeehouse in their Silver Lake neighborhood. But with yuppification proceeding apace, the area today has not only a Starbucks but Rudy’s Barbershop, a Standard Hotel spinoff where the hip wait one and a half hours to sit in a fake retro chair for a $15 haircut. Some residents see a threat to the fabled “Silver Lake Mix” — what one labels “the lesbian potluck thing that brings together old and young, gay and straight, white, Filipino and Latino people.” The most immediate casualties, however, are gay businesses along the Hyperion corridor. Two gay sex clubs, Basic Plumbing and Exile (the old King of Hearts), have closed in recent months. While Slammers on Beverly (in a more commercial zone) is picking up the slack, it doesn’t have the same homey feeling, patrons say. “Exile was kind of like a Costco, where you paid a fee to join,” says “Costco member” Vern.
Chichi gay-owned boutiques and restaurants appear to be safe; it’s the less seemly businesses that are under fire. In some cases, club owners are cashing in on skyrocketing offers for newly valuable Silver Lake real estate. But police harassment may also be at work, some patrons charge.
“At Akbar [a gay and straight hipster bar on Sunset in Silver Lake], no one’s beating off, but everyone’s smoking,” a Silver Lake designer, who declined to have his name used, points out. “At Cuffs, the smoking ordinance is meticulously enforced.”
Cuffs is back in operation after a liquor-license suspension linked to an old lewd-conduct violation. The designer says the problem is not just jackbooted cops: “The demographics are shifting, and the [gay] people who bought those adorable boho cottages in the ’70s are grown-ups now and not particularly interested in doing poppers in a dark bar,” he says. “But these clampdowns are wrong.”
Gay bars like Le Barcito and the Silver Lake Lounge, which draw a working-class Latino crowd, seem to have escaped police attention, but they also have fewer public displays of nudity. Of course, gays aren’t the only ones being displaced by yuppification. The cops in January lost their favorite watering hole, the Short Stop in neighboring Echo Park, which reopened as a retro lounge so hipster-friendly it made Vanity Fair’s hot list this month. Police have decamped to the Red Lion, the ersatz Bavarian bar on Glendale Boulevard in Silver Lake, where they reportedly have received a rather chilly welcome from some of the female wait staff. —Sandra Ross