Is sex just a substitute for talent?

LA street artist and DVDASA co-host David Choe.

LA street artist and DVDASA co-host David Choe. Photo: Getty Images

David Choe is more interested in making good art than he is in feeling good. In a recent interview with The Daily Beast’s Lizzy Crocker, the 36-year-old LA street artist whose frenetic, erotically charged murals read like a kind of unchecked outpouring of the id, says that when he’s in a happy place, his art gets worse. “I need therapy, and I do believe in helping yourself,” he says, also revealing that he used to see four shrinks a week. “It may have been all in my head, but I was like f---k this. My mental health comes second to my art.”

Lately, Choe has been pouring all that self-destructive energy into a different type of project. Co-hosted with Japanese-American porn star Asa Akira, DVDASA (short for Double Vag, Double Anal, Sensitive Artist) is a free podcast featuring 90-minute episodes which explore a spectrum of sex, relationship and race issues – everything from the challenges of reconciling the vocational thrills of double penetration with the logistics of maintaining a brand-new marriage (Akira’s) to the heartbreak that ensues when the object of your masturbation fantasy is already attached (Choe’s).

DVDASA swiftly ascended the iTunes charts – the podcast received a top twenty overall ranking and reached first place in the Health category in early February. Unsurprisingly, there’s something of an inversely proportional relationship between the adventurousness of the podcast and the explicitness of its content. Choe, who claims that he created DVDASA as a forum for his personal transgressions, spends most of his time trying to outmatch his guest with the sheer outrageousness of his exploits – a kind of locker room banter for the sexually deranged – while Akira supplies the narrative soundtrack, complete with XXX-rated highlights.

Japanese-American erotic film star Asa Akira.

Japanese-American erotic film star Asa Akira. Photo: Getty Images

Although Choe might sound like the poster-boy for the sort of demographic that would get off on Ashton Kutcher’s Punk’d, the truth is he’s anything but. He’s managed to carve out a successful career as a commercial illustrator, regularly contributing to Vice and Giant Robot - in between a gambling addiction and stints in jail. He sold a $250 million painting to the princess of Azerbaijan, thanks to the hype sparked by 2010 documentary Dirty Hands: The Art & Crimes of David Choe and a decision to be paid for a mural in Facebook stocks has seen him reap the spoils of last year’s IPO.


Choe’s version of Obama’s Hope poster might not be as iconic as Shepherd Fairey’s, but it’s still displayed in the White House – at least according to the Washington Post.

But for now, the self-professed boundary pusher isn’t going to let a lack of originality sully his hopes for DVDASA.

DVDASA co-hosts Asa Akira and David Choe.

DVDASA co-hosts Asa Akira and David Choe. Photo: Image via

“We almost got Bill Murray to stop by,” Choe deadpans. “These guys just come for my work, but I don’t think it would be that hard to get them on the show if I painted their portraits for free. And Asa has offered to blow anyone who comes on.”

Luckily for Choe, transgressive sexual behaviour, manufactured or otherwise, is a recurring factor in an age-old art world equation. If you’re a man who’s good at maths, it’s one that almost always adds up to infamy, cultural currency and sales.

In her New York magazine feature “Chasing Dash Snow”, Ariel Levy traces the careers of the late artist Dash Snow and photographer Ryan McGinley, who are best-known for immortalising a brand of sex-fuelled hedonism in art.  In doing so, she exposes the cultural machinery that produces the city’s (male) art stars and the invisible connection between bankability and underground success.

“And because notoriety is crucial to something much larger than graffiti culture, Dash Snow is becoming a kind of sensation. Young people poured out onto Joey Ramone Place waiting to get into his last show at Rivington Arms gallery. You may not be able to find him, but you can hear his name, that zooming syllable—Dash!—punctuating conversations in Chelsea galleries and Lower East Side coke parties and Miami art fairs and the offices of underground newspapers in Copenhagen and Berlin, like a kind of supercool international Morse code. Because the art world loves infamy. Downtown New York City loves infamy—needs it, in fact, to exist.”

But for infamy to work, first we have to be enamoured by it. Choe might use a wealthy porn star as a vehicle for his version of debauched masculinity but his paintings are gritty, dreamlike and undeniably compelling. And Snow and McGinley’s work might feature ingénues in compromising positions, but it also transports you to a hypnotic Neverland that’s immune to both time and place.

In Ways of Seeing, John Berger offers one explanation for this struggle between liberal myopia and feminist instinct – why we identify with art that reduces our bodies to the level of 35mm film or a tube of acrylic paint.

“Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object -- and most particularly an object of vision: a sight,” he writes.

But if this means we’re doomed to substitute sex for talent, how do we tell the difference between good art and the stuff that makes us squirm? Watch the Girls episode where Marnie realises she’s drawn to Booth Jonathan’s infamy, not his ability – after all, breaking sexual boundaries has nothing to do with creating groundbreaking work.


14 comments so far

  • I'm not sure what the point of this article actually is - free advertising for the podcast? Choe sounds like a slightly more talented version of Howard Stern. I'd be more interested in the podcast if it was Asa talking to someone who didn't try to one-up her in the sexploits department about how doing DVDA porn impacts her life outside of the porn shoot. I'd also be interested in hearing how she came to do DVDA. It's not exactly mainstream.

    Date and time
    March 05, 2013, 8:41AM
    • Yeah I was pretty confused too. Am I supposed to like this artist? Like the DVDASA lady? Hate them? What point is being made here? It's good/bad/doesn't matter? He's talented but not really? She's talented but not really? They both rely on sex to sell their brand (yawn)? The most coherent paragraph seemed to be the last - sell anything under the guise of being sexually explicit & you'll create a buzz. I think. I'm not sure I got it...

      Date and time
      March 05, 2013, 10:35AM
  • "and a decision to be paid for a mural in Facebook stocks has seen him reap the spoils of last year’s IPO"
    Facebook opened at $38/share last year and is now $27/share. Not sure what your definition of 'spoils' is, but for most people this would be considered a huge loss.

    Date and time
    March 05, 2013, 9:00AM
    • He didn't necessarily receive the facebook stock at a price of $38 a share, he may well have received it for a lot lower price in which case he would be well in the money.

      Date and time
      March 05, 2013, 10:23AM
    • He's only 'in the money' if he actually sells the stock. I don't believe Facebook is paying dividends right now.

      Date and time
      March 05, 2013, 11:29AM
    • Umm.. Choe got $200 million when Facebook went public. For painting a mural. That's the definitive of "spoils".

      Date and time
      March 05, 2013, 11:44AM
    • @DM - You are correct on FB not paying dividends currently. With regards to your other point, "In the money" is an option trading term and normally refers to the current price of the stock relative to the strike price of an option, in this case I'm using it to refer to the current stock price relative to the price at which he received the shares which given it was 2010 was presumably a lot lower as FB was valued at a lot less back then in pre IPO trading. And although he may not have sold the shares there are other ways in which he could realise the cash from them without actually selling them (and triggering a CGT event). The easiest would just be a total return swap, there are other ways this could be done though.

      Date and time
      March 05, 2013, 12:22PM
  • Q. Is sex just a substiute for talent?
    A. Who cares! Asa Akira is involved!

    Date and time
    March 05, 2013, 11:18AM
    • I'm in the confused camp too, but in answer to the notion that they, as artists, substitute talent with sex, I say that it's worked a charm for the likes of Madonna and about a thousand other wannbee's since the mid-80's.

      Also, "He sold a $250 million painting to the princess of Azerbaijan...". Really??

      Also, "DVDA". Really??

      Happy Dude
      Date and time
      March 05, 2013, 11:38AM
      • I think the best way to develop your taste is by looking, trying, reflecting - rinse and repeat.

        Eventually after a while looking you will find that some things give you life and others drain you. My judgement is that the things that enliven you are the creative and quality work.

        There have always those who shock and use sensation to get attention. In the internet age I guess porn is more accessible. Rule of thumb: If the impact of a work is destroyed by laughter it isn't the best sort of work.

        I think this stuff would be much less common if more of us were encouraged to pursue the art we want to do - and got supportive and intelligent guidance.

        Evan Hadkins
        Date and time
        March 05, 2013, 12:59PM

        More comments

        Make a comment

        You are logged in as [Logout]

        All information entered below may be published.

        Error: Please enter your screen name.

        Error: Your Screen Name must be less than 255 characters.

        Error: Your Location must be less than 255 characters.

        Error: Please enter your comment.

        Error: Your Message must be less than 300 words.

        Post to

        You need to have read and accepted the Conditions of Use.

        Thank you

        Your comment has been submitted for approval.

        Comments are moderated and are generally published if they are on-topic and not abusive.