Whiskey Row sex club paintings survive demolition work, artist returns


by Joe Arnold


Posted on February 27, 2013 at 7:17 PM

Updated Monday, Oct 14 at 9:33 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- Six months after the remnants of a sado-masochistic swingers club were discovered in the sub-basement of a building on Louisville's historic Whiskey Row, the club's paintings have survived the interior demolition of one of the buildings.

Photos from Whiskey Row revisited

"I was surprised they were still here," said Judson Baker, the artist who led a team of about five people painting the sub-basement's brick wall in the late 1990's.  "I thought that by now something would have been done with them, either the building would have been demolished or it would have been painted over."

Baker returned to the building on Tuesday with a WHAS11 News crew, his first visit to the underground club since the artwork was completed.

Orginial Photos inside club

More photos

"What I was looking for with the pictures I picked out was something that went along with the dark, mysterious nature of the club," Baker recalled.

Among the artwork are reproductions of works by classic artists Francisco Goya (Saturn Devouring His Son) and Salvador Dali (Femme Couchee) and Edvard Munch (The Scream). 

Baker, who studied fine art at the University of Louisville, has exhibited his work at Revelry Gallery, Liberty Art and Tattoo Parlor, Ultra Pop, Second Most Awesome Art Market and The Unfair.

 Click here for a link to Baker's website.

The stark paintings and torture chamber equipment stunned workers who were stabilizing the historic bourbon warehouses.

"That Salvador Dali right there, the bloody roses seemed appropriate when there was going to be some bondage and whipping and that sort of thing," Baker said.

In danger of collapse in some areas, the facades of all seven Whiskey Row buildings in the preservation project have been secured and are ready for development.

"I'm happy they acted when we did," said Ron Carmicle of the McCall Group, supervising the stabilization work for the buildings' owners.  "We were real close to losing these buildings."

The effort to save all seven Whiskey Row facades and three of the buildings included the interior demolition of the building where Club Latex briefly operated in the 1990's.

When WHAS11 revealed the secret past in August, fascination spread from Louisville to across the country and the world -- in all more than 7.5 million page views on WHAS11.com.

"I think it's pretty good work and I'm alright with that," Baker said.

"People are fascinated by old buildings and finding treasures in old buildings," said Valle Jones, a Whiskey Row co-developer, "and that's an unusual form of a treasure but it's part of our heritage."

Baker, who continues to paint, sculpt, work as a courtroom sketch artist and trading in antique and estate jewelry, said he would be happy to come back to Whiskey Row.

"When they're done with construction, if they need some touch up work, I'm available," Baker said.

The paintings' long-term future, however, is still uncertain.

"It's house paint," Baked said.  "It was all mixed from primary colors of house paint so I was expecting it would hold up as long as any other paint in here did."

"I believe art should challenge people and their beliefs," Baker said.  "It is my intent to do so with images of death, religious iconography and sex/reproduction often intermingled to create an emotionally charged confrontation of many peoples preconceived notions concerning fundamental truths such as life, death and the afterlife."
In August, WHAS11 interviewed a former founding member of LATEX, short for Louisville Area Trust EXchange, who explained that the club was in operation in the mid to late 1990's with close to 1,000 dues paying members.

"A group of about eight of us decided to form an organization to promote and teach people about safe ways to practice sadomasochism," the man explained, agreeing to share the information with the condition that WHAS11 withhold his name.  "There were a few professional dominatrices, a few that were in committed B-D-S-M relationships, some gay, some straight."

In the early to mid 1990's, a nightclub on the other side of Main Street, Sparks, began to host "s & m" performances, the practice of inflicting pain and humiliation for mutual pleasure, the former member recalled.

"We operated primarily at Sparks," the man said.  "We did demonstrations, theatrical performances, held workshops and classes, did benefits for local charities, and eventually opened the clubhouse/private area across the street in the room the construction crew discovered."

But after one person was injured, the group decided to form LATEX as a safe place for such activities.

The founder said the dungeon once held dozens of bondage and "torture" implements, but only one remained - a wooden rack with a chain attached to an ominous gear.

Other implements included a large rope "spider web" that extended from one support beam to the other and pairs of manacles hung from each of the arched brick alcoves.

Though "DO NOT HANG" was stenciled on some plumbing work, some people were hung from their ankles, LATEX's co-founder said.

He added that the room was a private space for receptions and demonstrations but "never, ever any nudity or sex acts."

Carmicle said the torture rack had been salvaged before interior demolition.

"I saw it in a truck when it left," Carmicles said.  "I would say if someone hauled it away in a truck, they probably kept it for future viewing."