Wednesday, June 4, 2008 | 2 a.m.
IF YOU GO
What: “Breast Defense: Glamour Girls for Early Detection”
Where: The Fallout Gallery, 1551 S. Commerce St.
When: Noon to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays through June 27
Admission: Free; 269-3111, www.thefallout.net or www.keep-a-breast.org
About a year ago Dixie Evans and World Famous *BOB* strolled into the Atomic Todd gallery.
Miss Exotic World Weekend had the town crawling with burlesque stars. There were parties, reunions, shows and contests.
There was also the Atomic Todd exhibit of the work of Liz Renay, the late painter, dancer, writer, actress, camp legend and ex-con.
Evans and *BOB* wanted a sneak peak, a moment with their old friend.
Despite their desire to reminisce for hours, however, the visit was short. Their breasts were needed for charity. Several dancers, past and present, were in a hotel suite at Binion’s, their bosoms covered with plaster.
“It was like an assembly line of strippers,” says Laura Herbert, representative of the Burlesque Hall of Fame.
About 40 casts were made from dancers, some of whom were in their 70s and 80s. The casts were shipped to artists throughout the country, painted, glittered, decoupaged and, in one case crushed, to raise funds for breast cancer awareness through the Keep a Breast Foundation, a nonprofit organization that has been casting men and women and auctioning the torsos since 2000.
Back in Vegas, the sculptural busts of stars of the bump and grind are on display in “Breast Defense: Glamour Girls for Early Detection” at the Fallout Gallery on Commerce Street. The exhibit, which has its opening reception Thursday, is a partnership between the Burlesque Hall of Fame and the Keep a Breast Foundation and runs in conjunction with this year’s Exotic World Weekend.
Front and center in the gallery is the golden cast of buxom *BOB*, painted in 24-karat gold leaf by New York City artist Charlene Lanzel. The statuesque torso looks more like a rich sculpture than a conduit for a painting. Pink stars cover each breast. One of the stars features a painted portrait of the dancer.
“I wanted to do something that she would like, that was indicative of her and burlesque,” says Lanzel, who was a go-go dancer in New York nightclubs in the ’90s and performed with *BOB*. “I thought it should say something about her. She is a superstar. She has that superstar quality.”
Photographer David LaChapelle painted a stunning pop art design on the cast of Evans, 81, who is the curator of the Exotic World Museum, formerly of Helendale, Calif.
The rest of the collection is a mix of lowbrow, fine, pinup and tattoo-style art.
“People didn’t just say, ‘Yes,’ ” Herbert says. “They said, ‘Yes. My mother had breast cancer. I’ve had breast cancer. My aunt had breast cancer.’ In our community people are constantly trying to show that they are more than boobs.”
No pun intended. Really.
Shaney Jo Darden, co-founder and executive director of Keep a Breast, says the artists and castees often participate to honor a loved one who has had breast cancer. “I’ve also casted women who have breast cancer,” Darden says. “I have casted them at all stages of the cancer. Some of the most beautiful art pieces have been of women with only one breast.”
Keep a Breast aims to reach youth. For seven years it has joined with the Vans Warped Tour. Darden says the casts have raised $300,000 for the organizations. The most paid for a cast was $10,000.
Many of the artists who painted the burlesque torsos are fans of the dancers. Chicago tattoo artist Mitch O’Connell, a fan of Tura Satana, burlesque performer, tough girl fighter and star of cult classic “Faster Pussycat ... Kill! Kill!” created a solid base for the large Satana cast and painted tattoo-style knives, roses, a skull and a broken bottle on its form.
Scott Ewalt, fan of Kitten Natividad, used headlines, photos and news clippings to make a collage for the cast of the strip artist and breast cancer survivor. Natividad, a former Miss Nude Universe and star of Russ Meyer films, had a double mastectomy in 1999 and was the first performer Herbert contacted about the project.
Musicians Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo, Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth and Iggy Pop of the Stooges painted casts.
The burlesque casts, which will be auctioned on eBay, are as varied as the performers. They’re large, petite, shapely, flat, nondescript and bold. The artwork also varies. Some directly reflects the disease. Some characterize the dancers.
Mothersbaugh, composer and co-founder of Devo, drew cartoon faces on the cast of Amber Ray. Pop painted “T Is for Terror” over a pinkish-bronze background on the cast of Julie Atlas Muz. Casey Weldon, an artist and illustrator formerly of Las Vegas, beautifully illustrated kittens drinking milk on the large cast of Candy Caramelo. Las Vegas painter and illustrator Amy Sol decorated the cast of standup comic Margaret Cho, who has hosted Miss Exotic World pageants.
Rather than painting the cast of a dancer, Darlinda Just Darlinda, a performance artist, made a video of the cast being crushed. Herbert says she was at first alarmed, but realized the significance of the piece:
“That hammers home the tragedy of it. It’s a disease that kills people, disfigures people and ruins lives.”