By Nicole Torres
If you used to hide issues of Playboy under your bed (or sneak peeks at your dad’s stash), the secret’s out—and it’s on display. Tomorrow, those centerfolds of your teenage years (and perhaps beyond) will be featured in a new exhibition, called “The Playboy Commission,” at the New York gallery/shop Partners & Spade. On view through the end of the month—and timed to celebrate with the launch of iPlayboy, an iPad app that collects the magazine’s complete archives—the show presents highlights from the magazine’s 57-year history in sumptuous, large-scale prints.
The selections, which range from avant-garde illustrations to fleshy pinups, were made by the so-called Playboy Commission, a panel of artists and tastemakers that includes Ryan McGinness, Waris Ahluwalia, Aaron Rose, Vena Cava’s Lisa Mayock and Sophie Buhai, and Simon Doonan. (Besides Mayock and Buhai, there is one other female commissioner. So far, the magazine “simply had more feedback from the men,” says Krista Freibaum, a press representative for Playboy.) Partners & Spade’s owners, Andy Spade and Anthony Sperduti, are charter members. Sperduti says Playboy was a natural fit for the store, which sells funky ephemera like Argentinian stamp sets, vintage skis, and rolling salt and pepper shakers. “It’s a true American institution,” he says, “both culturally, art directionally, and journalistically. We love the fact that Playboy is truly part of our country’s collective nostalgia, and it’s rare to have something that EVERY American guy has some emotional connection with.”
Unlike the other commissioners, Partners & Spade chose only centerfolds. “We felt that the idea of the ‘centerfold’ visually represents Playboy, and the level of the photography of each centerfold was really surprising,” Sperduti says. “But YES, it was strictly about naked women!”
The commissioners serve two functions for Playboy: They help readers find their way through the nearly 700 issues of the magazine that have been published since its launch in 1953, and, of course, they lend it their cultural capital. “The commission exists as a way to help readers navigate a massive amount of content in a way that is more curated in nature and allows them to discover Playboy through the eyes of people that they admire or who inspire them,” says Jimmy Jellineck, the editorial director of Playboy, who conceived of the project.
Rose, for one, didn’t need much convincing. “Doing something for Playboy is like every dude’s dream!” he says. “How could I refuse?” Reversing his adolescent relationship with the magazine (“To be completely honest, I wasn’t so much into “reading” the magazine at that point.”), he mainly selected articles rather than centerfolds.
“Those images are sexy, emotional even at times, but still I felt it would be more interesting to both myself and the public to choose things that one would never expect to see in Playboy,” he says. “From the very start, there was some very off-kilter editorial going on, and I thought it would be nice to celebrate that. Magazines today have become so cliché; there was a wildness and freedom going on at Playboy that went far beyond sex.”
But that’s not to say that Rose has sworn off the more salacious bits. “I have a whole folder on my desktop that’s just filled with sexy women from those issues! But those are for my personal use!!”
All images courtesy of Playboy.