The Museum of Sex
by Melissa Ulto
is a line out the door, down the street and past a strategically
placed pretzel vendor. The crowd is nattily dressed, a little
giddy, pressed close together against the cold, under the
scaffolding above the side of the building. Two forty-ish
women giggle with each other, excited and a bit wary.
All business, I bypass the crowd and head in past the doormen.
The entry is glossy looking - very white with well designed
branding in black and red. So this is the Museum of Sex.
I get my press pass, thankful I don't have to dole out
$17.00 for the admission, and grab my handy-dandy digital
storyteller aka the exhibition audio guide. For regular
folk, the audio guide is included in the admission fee.
The current exhibit is NYC Sex: How New York City Transformed
Sex in America - a historical overview of sex in the city.
The museum opened later than expected and is supposedly
still under construction in some areas.
The line to get into the exhibits winds around a club style
coat check and small merchandise display. I wait with a
crowd that flips through photography books, each an essay
in sex. Finally, we enter and I have to make it abundantly
clear I am press, so my camera doesn't get confiscated.
I am told no pictures on the second floor, where the nudity
and porn are exhibited.
The walls are stark white with letraset paragraphs stuck
above and around exhibits, highlighting the historical context.
The display cases are arranged in narrow corridors, with
no room to back up and take a wider look at the object d'sexe.
The crowd pushes impatiently, as we pass dioramas of early
STD models from the 1800's, illustrations of white slavery,
costumes of Ziegfeld showgirls, early anti-abortionist propaganda
and tools of their trade.
In the areas where early film plays on tiny inset screens,
the crowd pauses and the resulting traffic jam blocks the
entire halting flow. The screens loop films of the first
exotic dancers and stag films, while on-lookers bend over
or squint to see the images better.
I was happy to see Victoria Woodhull, (1838-1927), included
in the exhibit, quoted as saying:
"Yes, I am a Free Lover. I have an inalienable, constitutional
and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long or
as short a period as I can; to change that love every day
if I please, and with that right neither you nor any law
you can frame have any right to interfere."
She is hailed as the first true feminist of our times,
running for president in the 1872 race, running her own
newspaper and being the first female Wall Street stock broker.
The only disappointing thing about her particular exhibit,
as with all the others, is the brevity of it. There was
simply not enough there to fully experience Victoria Woodhull
as the amazing social reformer and charismatic force that
Up a narrow staircase to the second floor where the most
modern of exhibits are displayed. Vargas girls and fetish
ala Betty Page lines a few walls. Gay and lesbian history
begins to filter into the exhibit with Tom of Finland and
other iconic and sexual art lovingly placed under layers
Wonder Woman as a lesbian icon is featured in a small exhibit.
Of course, I took many pictures of the comic books illustrating
my buxom hero wrestling with Cheetah, a society girl gone
bad. Oh, how I long to be Cheetah
A Playboy bunny outfit fits snugly in one well-lit niche.
I come across a predictable display of 60's skin magazines
that lie out of touch under glass. Seventies porn movie
posters feature hits like "Deep Throat" and "Behind
the Green Door", while there are several small screens
looping a best of reel of the era's porn stars.
Around the corner and the topic of AIDS and HIV are explored
in posters, health department closing memos, ads from GMHC
and public service announcements to keep sex safe. We end
with images of WigStock and drag queens, as I pass out and
down another narrow staircase.
I leave unsated. There was not nearly enough on any one
topic and just too much of everything to really get a grasp
on New York's sexual history. The scope was too wide, it
seemed, to really go into any analysis or depth on any one
point in time. It seems tasty at first, the idea of a sex
museum, but the clinical aspect of its approach to sexuality,
as it skims over it, does nothing to impress, challenge
or inform me, except on a very superficial level.
Missing was a discussion of the rise of rape and sexual
molestation, or at least the final (deserved) criminalization
of such acts. Sexual deviance and violent drives that include
gay bashing, serial murder and some of the more brutal fetishes
like branding were not discussed. Nor was tattooing, the
rise of the sex symbol, sex in the media, the music industry
and sex, or the evolution of the club scene. But considering
there were a couple of centuries to cover, one can forgive
a real in-depth look at modern sexual phenomena.
Still, the existence of Museum of Sex is an important step
in the understanding of our sexual past and our sexual destiny.
The overarching theme in the exhibit was the way society
has punished and vilified the sexually expressive, open
and experimental. One can only hope this exhibit helps museum
goers understand that sexuality is about free will, not
legislation. Live and let live, baby.
The exhibit is a good display for those interested in sexual
history but not interested in delving too deeply. I hope
the next exhibits go deeply into one subject or examine
one artist's work, and I do hope they change their layout
to something a little more spacious and accommodating, for
those who like to stand back and ponder the work.
The Museum of Sex is located at 233 Fifth Avenue (@ 27th
Street), New York, NY 10016, and is open every day but Wednesdays,
from 10:00 am. The current exhibit, NYC Sex: How New York
City Transformed Sex in America, runs Oct 5, 2002 - July
3, 2003. Admission is Adults (18+): $17.00, with a special
weekday rate of $12.00 before 12 noon, Monday-Friday. Students
and Seniors (with valid ID) can get in for a mere $14.00.
© 2002 multo.com