The greatest debate surrounding the existence of an institution like The Erotic Museum is whether it has any utility. What are the purpose and aim of this museum? Since there are various kinds of erotic and sex museums, we can only speak about our own.
The mission Of The Erotic Museum
Our museum deals with art, art which is erotic in nature. And what’s the purpose of art? In the classical sense of the word, art is the creation of something beautiful and captivating. Its mission is to snatch a piece, a moment of reality, and present it to us in a way that we can appreciate and contemplate from a distance.
Art gives us a different perspective on the objects and experiences that it represents. Let’s take a tragic event as an example. The tragedy is something unpleasant that everyone faces in their lives, and it is not an experience that people appreciate or look forward to. However, when looking at a painting depicting something tragic, tragedy suddenly gets a different quality, a kind of deep, melancholic beauty. Seeing such an image can transform our way of looking at our existence and the role that tragedy plays.
You see, it’s one thing to experience it first hand, and another thing to see it presented in a work of art.
The same goes for our erotic and sexual experiences. Unlike tragedy, these situations are a source of great pleasure and satisfaction. Most of us see them as encaptivating and intense, even slightly dangerous, and all of these adjectives point to a kind of seriousness. Erotic art gives us the opportunity to separate ourselves from the experience, and thus see the funny, beautiful, or perhaps, the ugly side of sex.
This art can, of course, arouse and hopefully spice up one’s romantic relationships, but that’s not its sole purpose. Looking at erotic art can give us a new look at our sexuality, its place in our lives, and makes us confront the often-uncomfortable emotions of seeing it among other people. Another point of view is that the point of erotic art us to shock (or offend), which is undoubtedly the case for many people, and this is the leading cause of controversy surrounding it.
The exhibitions are produced by UMoMA in collaboration with artists and museums around the world and they often attract international attention. UMoMA has received a Special Commendation from the European Museum of the Year and was among the top candidates for the Swedish Museum of the Year Award as well as for the Council of Europe Museum Prize.
Art or porn?
Critics of erotica argue that applying the word “art” to it and putting it into a museum is just a way to mask its real, pornographic purpose – to arouse. However, this is a one-sided approach to the issue, and while it has some truth to it, it doesn’t paint the complete picture.
It is correct that, throughout history, much of the erotic art had the aim to arouse, thus blurring the line between art and porn. Today, when people rely on high-tech pornographic footage for getting sexually excited, we can make a closer distinction between those two terms.
Porn is a blunt, straight-to-the-point medium that’s created for one reason only, and nobody tries to place it in the “art” category. On the other hand, erotic sculpture, paintings, installations, abstract pieces, and certain forms of photography aren’t made just to arouse the viewer. Of course, arousal is something that may naturally occur when seeing some of these pieces, but it is not the end goal nor the primary purpose.
Many displays found in erotic museums today focus on sex trends of a certain time and place. For example, the New York Museum of Sex teaches us about sexual subcultures that were present in the city since its inception until today. Such presentations also deal with the influence of those movements on the city’s mainstream life and culture.
From this perspective, what’s typically seen as obscene can become an educational asset in learning about society and its undercurrents that many people are unaware of.
Erotic art is such a broad term that encompasses many different mediums and creations, so while some are indeed more on the provocative and “animal” side, others are more focused on education.
Erotica and the modern world
The Western world has seen a severe suppression and demonization of all things sexual for more than a thousand years, and the term “sex” was synonymous with words like “sin” and “wrong.”
Although less of a taboo now than in the previous few centuries, sexuality and erotica are still controversial topics in much of our modern liberal world. Since the age of enlightenment, public discussions about these matters have traditionally been left to philosophers or intellectuals, and even now, they remain on the fringes of “the common man’s” everyday discourse.
Over the course of the 20th century, minds have been stretched open by modern thought, industrial progress, urbanization, and more room was created for all things erotic in our daily lives. The Erotic Museum wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for these massive cultural and societal shifts, and today it stands on the back of progressive social movements and liberal currents.
It would be wrong to think that every culture throughout human history has had such an unfair relationship to human sexuality. There were times when erotic art and sexual displays were perfectly acceptable everyday phenomena, but we have to go way back to learn about this.
History of erotica
The first records of erotic art dates back to the prehistoric period. Although they might not have been made for the same purposes as present-day erotica and pornography, creations such as the Venus of Willendorf prove that humans from that age celebrated the female body and used it as a symbol of fertility.
In the middle east, during the Mesopotamian times, erotic art was a part of religious practices. Numerous depictions of people having sex have been found in the region of this vast empire, and get this – they even had a patron goddess of prostitution.
Fast forward to the Greco-Roman era, and this tradition continues. The people of this civilization did not think of sexual depictions as explicit, and we know this because they created images of other daily activities in the same fashion. Everyone has seen ancient Greek vases with drawings of Olympic athletes, but not so many are aware of the exact same pottery with pornographic depictions.
Central and far eastern cultures were, perhaps, even more, exuberant in their artistic expressions of sexuality. India probably has the most well-known example, the famous Kama Sutra, written by the philosopher Vatsyayana. Interestingly enough, this book is the only surviving account of this era of Indian history.
Japan was no stranger to sexual imagery either, and their shunga can be traced back to the tenth or eleventh century. Another important creation from this country is The Tale of Genji, sometimes referred to as the world’s oldest novel, which contains a lot of sexual language.
Christian Europe too has produced a non-neglectable amount of erotic and pornographic art, even under religious bans and brutal punishments if caught. Early examples from this era include books written (and drawn) by monks, ironically. However, these were only available to royalty and very wealthy individuals. The first boom of erotica comes with the advent of printing, where images depicting sexual acts were easy to reproduce.
England and France were the regional leaders regarding sexual literature. The Adventures of Fanny Hill is a satire of the time it was written in, but it also contains descriptions of sexual acts. It’s interesting to note that many such books remained banned in the West until the second half of the 20th century!
Photography and film paved the way for the broader acceptance of erotic imagery in modern society. Ever since the early 1900s, the world has seen a continual production of erotic material. We all know the pin-ups of the 1940’s, and the subsequent explosion of magazines like Playboy and Penthouse.
Not long after, pornography was legalized in Denmark, followed by Sweden and the Netherlands, and we don’t need to tell you how things developed from then on.
What future holds for erotic museums is uncertain; however, things are looking bright. Many museums of this kind have already developed a cult status and are receiving more and more visitors each year. Some, on the other hand, weren’t as lucky, and they had to close.
The general trend seems to be that these places are getting more public recognition with each passing year. All in all, it appears that humans are becoming more open-minded regarding what it means to be a sexual being, and exploration of this side of our nature is catching the interest of many.