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Art

Smithsonian of smut

Though not quite spiritual, the Erotic Heritage Museum is far from a turn-off

Image
Ted Potter’s “Testosterone Man” (ink, pencil and charcoal).
Susanne Forestieri

The Erotic Heritage Museum—a vast emporium of objects, movie posters, paintings and videos—is a sort of Smithsonian of smut. It disappoints in some ways, but surprises and delights in others. By inserting the word “heritage” in the museum’s name, the founders, Harry Mohney and Ted McIlvenna, would like to persuade you that, as “one of the great spiritual movements of our time,” there is something aesthetically and culturally important about erotica. That might sound like a reach, but there is a connection between the erotic and the sacred—from the phallic altars of Greece through the medieval depictions of sin and punishment to some contemporary artists’ obsessions with bodily fluids and crucifixes.

The Erotic Heritage Museum

In keeping with the Museum’s religious zeal to convert nonbelievers, Larry Flynt’s golden wheelchair is displayed on a platform beneath his photograph like an icon above an altar. The founder of Hustler magazine, having been shot and paralyzed from the waist down, ultimately became a martyr to the cause of preserving the First Amendment right of free speech.

If the thought of Larry in his wheelchair doesn’t turn you on, maybe seeing Jeff Gord’s sadomasochistic bondage creations will. Dubbed “Mechanised Maidens,” these lifelike mannequins in ultra-tight latex/rubber outfits are ingeniously melded with machines. Combining bondage (which has a long history in erotic art) with hard gleaming metal is a potent brew. In previous centuries, shields and armor unconsciously lent an erotic tinge to paintings whose intent was historical.

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From the Archives
Staying power (1/29/09)
Drawn to the human form (12/18/08)
The curator of the erotic (9/18/08)
"Bridging the gap between fine art and smut" (8/7/08)
Place Guide
Erotic Heritage Museum
Three stars
Wednesday-Friday, 3 p.m.-midnight; Saturday-Sunday, noon-midnight
$20 ($15 for locals, seniors; free for retired military)
3775 Industrial Road, 731-9734.

Having a less puritanical ethic to chaff against, Asian erotic art has a charming candor. I was looking forward to seeing this part of the collection, but left disappointed by grainy reproductions totally unsuitable for museum display. On the bright side, the figurines from Africa, Asia and South America engaged in exuberant couplings were a delight, although I would have liked some historical/social context.

I was even more delighted to rediscover—after 40 years—the charcoal drawings of Betty Dodson. Although her work is hardcore in its subject matter, her chiaroscuro lighting, superb grasp of anatomy and classical restraint are comparable to one of the 19th century’s finest draftsmen, Pierre-Paul Prud’hon.

The Museum is to be commended for featuring contemporary artists, several of them local, but their work is purely hedonistic and, as such, unchallenging. Now that every sexual taboo has been broken, artists can no longer shock or provoke with exposed genitalia. They must say something new about sexuality.

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