Florida grandmother opens erotic-art museum
Naomi Wilzig peered through her wire-rimmed glasses looking for the ménage à trois. "Where's the bronze figurine? " demanded the Jewish...
Knight Ridder Newspapers
MIAMI — Naomi Wilzig peered through her wire-rimmed glasses looking for the ménage à trois.
"Where's the bronze figurine?" demanded the Jewish grandmother, as she feverishly labored to ready her unlikely creation, South Beach's World Erotic Art Museum. "It's small, with two men and a woman in the middle. It should be here."
Two workers scurried off to find it.
For the past 13 years, Wilzig, 70, has scoured markets and antique shops from Paris to St. Petersburg to amass a 4,000-piece collection that includes Kama Sutra temple carvings from India, peekaboo Victorian figurines who flash their behinds and a prop from the sado-sexual thriller "A Clockwork Orange."
Today, her late-life love child opens to the public.
"I decided it was something that should be made public so that others could enjoy it and realize there is a genre of art called erotic art," she explained.
The museum marches through humanity's sexual history, a tale told through objects as varied as the acts they depict.
"Why should these things be hidden?" Wilzig said. "It's how everyone got here, so why should we be embarrassed?"
Her foray into erotic art began when her son Ivan asked her to find a few pieces for his new Manhattan apartment.
At first, she didn't know what he was talking about.
Back then, Wilzig — a banker's wife and charity maven in Clifton, N.J. — avidly collected more mundane antiques, namely costume jewelry, Victorian card cases and Royal Worcester porcelain.
"I didn't even know what erotic art was," she said.
Nonetheless, she added it to her shopping list.
At first, she had little success.
Empty-handed, she finally asked an antique dealer for information. His response: Dealers don't put them out because they're afraid to offend people. "He told me I had to ask for it," she recalled.
So she did.
It was at an antique shop in St. Petersburg, Fla. The proprietor climbed a ladder and reached behind the decorative crown piece of a tall wooden cabinet to remove the hidden book. He clutched it to his chest.
The 18th-century Japanese pillow book, made of rice paper bound on silk, bore 24 hand-painted images of couples in rapturous sexual poses. Half wore opulent robes; the others wore the garments of peasants.
Such books were as practical as they were beautiful: Traditionally, they were given to newlyweds on their wedding nights to show how they should pleasure each other.
So began the odyssey, one that took Wilzig across borders and past her own boundaries.
As she became an experienced collector, Wilzig refined her technique. Her first buying trip to Paris was a bust — she couldn't communicate with the dealers. On her next trip, she wore a piece of cardboard around her neck. On it was printed: Je cherche de l'art erotique.
The strategy worked so well that she had a sign made out of black plastic emblazoned with "Buying Erotica." She wears it on every buying trip in the United States.
"She's really a maverick," said Dr. Laura Henkel, an associate professor in the budding field of erotology, or study of erotic art, at the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco. "I've been hearing about her for years, because there are very few women who have a private collection as extensive as hers, and even less who are willing to show it."
But Wilzig is not only willing to show it, she's completely financing the Miami Beach museum that will hold the multimillion-dollar collection — one that Henkel says is among the largest in the country.
Henkel is an assistant curator on a project to open an erotic art museum in Las Vegas, which will join Wilzig's museum in adding to the growing cadre of such institutions, including Paris' Musée de l'Erotisme, Berlin's Beate Uhse Erotik-Museum and New York's Museum of Sex.
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