Sunday, January 25, 2004
Los Angeles One look at Hollywood's newest tourist attraction and it's easy to mistake it for any number of adult shops along the popular Walk of Fame.
The nude pictures, sex toys and stag films aren't meant to arouse but to edify. This is, after all, the Erotic Museum, which pays tribute to all things sexual, from the tame to the tawdry.
It chronicles sex through the ages with nude abstracts by Pablo Picasso, erotic jade figurines from ancient China, vintage sex toys and sultry computer-animated dancers.
For nearly $13 for the price of admission, visitors can touch rubber toys or peruse patent applications for various oddball erotic inventions, such as a diagram of a newfangled "female security device." No one under 18 is admitted.
Owners said Los Angeles, home to both mainstream movies and the adult film industry, seemed ideal for a museum celebrating erotica.
"Lord knows the entertainment industry is giving people their sexual cues these days," said museum curator Eric Singley, 33. "The museum provides a good counterbalance to the media versions of sex."
The museum joins a handful of similar institutions worldwide. Museums in New York, Spain, Holland and Denmark exhibit everything from pornography to high-minded paintings exploring local sexual attitudes and culture.
The Erotic Museum, just blocks away from the Kodak Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, distinguishes itself with a nod to celebrities. Among the highlights are a mosaic of Farrah Fawcett and a 56-year-old X-rated film that purportedly features a young Marilyn Monroe.
Works by established contemporary artists, such as Julian Murphy, lend the museum an aura of legitimacy, experts said. So does its use of rotating exhibits and other traditional techniques.
"It's sort of rationalizing the exotic and putting it into a traditional museum," said Steven Tepper, deputy director of the Princeton University Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies. "It can't just be cheap thrills."
Co-founder Mark Volper, a former engineer who has worked in advertising, said he got the idea after visiting sex museums in Europe. The owners spent about $900,000 buying artifacts and renovating the two-story, 6,000-square-foot space, previously a Hollywood souvenir shop.
Volper, a Russian immigrant, said the risque exhibits serve as a reminder of his newfound civil liberties.
Visitor Michael Williams, 52, from North Carolina, said several of the museum's displays were enthralling but a tad sleazy. Still, he found the museum "refreshing."
"Sex is part of life. It's what we do to propagate humans, and this museum reflects life," he said, standing near a life-sized sex doll.
Singley said he wanted the museum to showcase most aspects of sex, the only taboo subjects being children and violence.
Several protesters rallied at the museum's opening last Friday, Singley said, but he wasn't worried about offending visitors.
"It's a sex museum. What am I supposed to do?" he asked. "It could not be PG."