A few weeks ago, we covered a party so sexy that, by midnight, our photographer on the assignment Ruthie Darling found herself naked in a rooftop hot tub with a bunch of strangers discussing the bondage demonstration they had just witnessed. Yes, LUST NYC, billed as a party where “theater, fantasy and the erotic meet” was truly something else!
A few weeks later, our Ruthie Darling had an opportunity to meet Abby Hertz, the enigmatic woman behind the whole event. They sat down together in her apartment in Bushwick; here’s what they talked about.
How did you get into the fetish scene?
AH: Just by being a freak.
I have to admit, when she invited me over for a coffee, I was expecting a shirtless Adonis type to answer the door and usher me into a dungeon, where she would be waiting on a throne eating a bunch of grapes. When I showed up however, it was only Abby, smiling sweetly, hair loosely placed over one shoulder, welcoming me into her cozy Bushwick digs.
Abby Hertz: I started performing when I was 18. I was more of a fetish performer/performance artist, mainly [presenting works] about female sexuality and erotism and feminist pieces.
When I went to grad school, (for art criticism) I met my now ex-husband, who was a fire performer backstage at the Bowery Poetry Club, and we started performing fire together. We started a fire entertainment company called Flambeaux Fire, and I did that for eight years.
We travelled the world doing fire shows. Then I started my own company, AHZ concepts, three years ago, and it was more art based, more for art collector type clients that didn’t really fit into the Flambeaux Fire brand. They were more my people – I have a bachelors in art history – and the contracts were being done under Flambeaux fire, so I realized I needed to start my own company.
I do corporate and private events for art collectors and art museums. We install the party at the home of the client; I hire anywhere between 20 and 40 performers and installation artists, and we completely transform the space based on the theme.
: How did you come up with the LUST concept?
In my early 20’s I had seen a video of Hunter Reynolds and Chrysanne Stathacos 1992 performance piece “The Banquet” that took place at Thread Waxing space in SoHo. The performance had a naked man eating food off of him and was an homage to Meret Oppenheim’s 1959 “Cannibal Feast so it does have an art background. I expanded upon that and turned it into a giant event and feast. A little fetish based, but mostly erotic”.
How did you get into the fetish scene?
Just by being a freak.
…I don’t really know how to answer that. I’d been practicing that in my private life, but I was at an art salon in Orlando where I lived for five years and there was a group of women who had just started a fetish performance troupe. I was 21. We started started doing fetish performances every Tuesday night at a club in downtown Orlando.
Are you from Florida?
No actually I was born in Muncie, Indiana. I moved to Minneapolis—St Paul when I was 8.
What brought you to New York?
I always knew I wanted to live in New York, but when I finished undergrad I was given a grant to go to grad school based on the work I had done for my degree (I created a pop-up gallery on campus because we didn’t have an art gallery).
So you’ve always been a bit of an entrepreneur?
Yeah, I didn’t know how to finish undergrad because I had run out of money, so I had to think fast, so I applied to be the building manager at the Campus Centre and when I got the job, I turned the centre into an art gallery. I then applied for a grant from the school to create monthly theme shows and art openings with food, DJs and performances. Most of my work is based on art history or visual art— It’s heavily curated.
How did you have the self-confidence to do this? I know LUST has been running for several years and you’ve no doubt honed your skills over time, but throwing up an entire art gallery as an undergrad – that takes guts, no?
I was living out of my car. I was homeless. If I had been a rich kid, I probably would have been a lot more meek.
Necessity. I was living out of my car. I was homeless. If I had been a rich kid, I probably would have been a lot more meek, but when you’re trying to survive you have to be pretty innovative.
Yes. Although if I were trying to survive as a homeless woman, I think I would just apply to the nearest minimum wage job, but you said, “I can do way better than that.”
It’s all I know how to do. I looked different. I had a bunch of facial piercings and pink hair. I wasn’t very hirable. One of my professors put me up for a Getty Award, which I won, and that enabled me to go to grad school.
I hadn’t planned on continuing my education – I was the first person in my family to even go to college. I thought grad school was for fancy-pants people.
Who comes to the LUST parties?
It’s often a really wide [range of attendees]. Because the first was on Valentine’s day, people were up for spending more money than they might usually have, which meant we had more lower-income guests who were treating their partners to the event. It was fun for me to [introduce] people from different socioeconomic backgrounds and have them share in the experience. I really get off on that.
We had a sanitation worker and his wife from Staten Island, we had a Mexican busboy from Bushwick and his wife, we had high rollers from the fetish scene, we has a social worker from the Upper West Side. I could go on. It’s great, because a lot of the fetish events that I’ve attended are usually one group of people of one particular background. Very white, very upper middle class.
It’s kind of like a potato print but with the vulva.
What makes yours different, do you think?
I think because it’s not a fetish party, it’s not a play party and it’s not a sex party. It’s more accessible to people. I know a couple of people did end up having sex at the last party, but they were thrown out.
That surprises me because, despite how sensual the environment was (and it really was hot), I didn’t see people making out that much. It was more inclusive than that – flirtatious glances and caresses.
I try to create an intimate, sensual environment without it being overtly sexual.
So, we can’t ignore the fact that at LUST the food was not only gorgeous and delicious, but also served off of gorgeous and delicious people. Do you curate the entire experience from food to performer to venue etc?
I do. It’s instinctual. You either have a curatorial mind or you don’t. LUST is a curated night and experience. It’s not a visual art show, its more of a cross between performance-art and immersive theatre. I don’t over-organize the night, I want it to feel organic to people.
And it did! At times I felt like, ‘I’m not sure what this is, but I feel [like I’m] in safe hands.’ There was a safety net of structure that felt very reassuring somehow.
Fetish is kind of hot right now, right?
It’s very hot right now. I think that I’m more approachable as a producer than actual fetish producers because I know how to draw the lines. I think the “Fifty Shades of Grey” franchise has opened people up to the possibilities, but they are really seeking super light stuff like blindfolds, feathers etc.
You are a performer too—I saw your fire show at LUST!
Yes! I performed in three shows – I did the sex magic ritual, the fire show and the pussy painting show.
Ahh, the pussy painting! I left before this happened, schoolgirl error on my part. Can you explain what this is?
Here let me show you! —The paintings, I mean!
It’s kind of like a potato print but with the vulva.
Well, that’s my headline sorted!
You paint the vulva and then press it on paper.
I came up with the idea at college. I was taking a print class and I used my vulva to create patterns. My teacher was like “What the fuck is that?” —I never got good grades in her class!
It’s funny you asked about the Pussy Painting, because almost no one from the press saw that performance that night.
Ahh. I may be able to offer you an explanation for that. All of us journalists were, at that point, naked in the rooftop hot tub.
The photographer I hired was also gone.
Yeah. Think they might have been there also. Sorry about that.
BD: Will we be eating turkey off of tits?
AH: I mean, yes.
You know, it took them about ten minutes to convince me to get naked for the hot tub in the first place, and as I was stepping in, an employee of The House Of Yes, told me it was policy to shower first. I said “fine,” and asked where the shower was. He then pointed to the middle of the bar downstairs. So off I went, naked, through a crowded bar to shower.
I like to create a safe environment for people to explore that side of themselves, in a gentle easy way, rather than having you walk into a room full of people tied up and being flogged.
What do you have coming up next that we can attend?
On November 17th at House of Yes, I am throwing an Alternative Thanksgiving Feast.
Will we be eating turkey off of tits?
I mean, yes.
Are you at a place [in your career] now where you can pick and chose your clientele?
Oh, yes! I often pass on work to other producer friends of mine that run more traditional companies. If somebody just wants a face painter and a stilt walker to smile at a kid’s party, that’s probably not me.
You should put that on your business cards.
AH: I don’t wear five inch heels around the house. I’m in my boxer shorts reading Game of Thrones.
BD: That’s probably someone’s fetish…
What kind of parties do you like to go to?
Well, I’m an introvert, so I stay in quite a lot. I like having dinner parties. I like going to House of Yes of course. I’m quiet. I like living here in Bushwick, because this is where the Brooklyn art scene is now based. Where the kids are. Even though I’m in my thirties, I like to be by the kids – they keep me young.
They keep me up!
Yeah, they keep me up and they keep me young!
You are much more patient.
Do people have misconceptions about you?
Yes, everything gets sexualized. I could say on Facebook “I’m going out to dinner” and someone will comment “Oh yeah, can I watch?” If you’re involved in anything erotic, people fetishize you and treat you like a sex doll.
That has to be tiresome.
It is. I usually just ignore it. I’m a normal human being— I don’t wear five inch heels around the house, I’m in my boxer shorts reading “Game of Thrones.”
That’s probably someone’s fetish…
That’s true. ha.
You’re a painter too?
Yes! I rent a space through Chashama, an emerging artist studio. Everything I paint has to do with female reproduction. These patterns [above] are a vivisection of the breast. You can always find little vulvas throughout my work. I use my own blood to paint the red.
Talk about putting a piece of yourself into your art
Yeah I have a vein that I open up and paint with. I’ve used this one since I was eighteen.
Bloody hell. I used eggshell for my bathroom cabinets, I’ve got to up my game!
I use menstrual fluids sometimes, but I’m on birth control right now so, as you know, you don’t bleed as much.
Hate when that happens.
Haha I know, right?
[The paintings] are really beautiful.
And with that, off I swept back out into the Bushwick sunshine, feeling like I had encountered a local legend. Bookworm by day, Goddess by night, not to mention a savvy business owner. My kind of girl.