The Great Pasties Debate


One would think something titled the Erotic Heritage Museum and located in the T&A capital of the American West would be allowed to embrace the art of the birthday suit. And one would be wrong, at least in the public sense. Apparently the Las Vegas museum’s Ho-Down Mural Project has violated the county’s sign code that bans visible areola of female breasts. Thus: pasties! If that’s not indigenous local culture, we don’t know what is. And yet.

It’s curious that an area like Las Vegas, known for its regulated sex industry and “What Happens Here Stays Here” mindset, is allowed to market sex in Southern Nevada for financial gain, but “sexual dialogue in public art is not welcome.” The curator of the Erotic Heritage Museum, Laura Henkel, covered the nipples on the offending mural with pasties, but argues that the murals in the Ho-Down project (painted by Veks 3, Niki J. Sands, Paula McPhail, Vezun, KD Matheson, Joseph Watson and Dray) are urban art, not signs.

The problem here is contextual. During a previous flap over controversial subject matter in a public painting — LA artist Alexis Smith referenced adultery in her large-scale mural, quelle horreur! — Libby Lumpkin, former director of the Las Vegas Art Museum, was quoted as attributing the issue with Smith’s mural as the fact that “people in the community see art as an intellectual retreat from the hyper-sexualized world we live in.” Art as a moral sanctuary? How Biblical.

We’re not saying the mural in question will make it into the pages of art history textbooks a la Gabrielle d’Estrées et une de ses soeurs. But in the canon of contemporary and localized public artwork, why are artists not allowed to play off the accepted social currency of Vegas’s gambling, drinking, and sexual culture?

And just imagine if this pasties thing became a trend: