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Naked in Miami Beach

If you’ve ever wondered what’s underneath a Scotsman’s kilt, then 72-year-old Naomi Wilzig  has a piece of art she’d like you to look at.

The interactive clay sculpture titled “Wee Willie MacFlannel” dates back to 1605 and is just one of 4,000 intriguing items on display at the newly-opened World Erotic Art Museum (WEAM). Located on Washington Drive in the heart of the historic art deco district of Miami Beach, the museum leads visitors on a historical romp through a $10 million US personal collection of erotica belonging to Wilzig, its founder. Unlike sex shops that simply display paraphernalia intended to shock and titillate, WEAM offers an edifying journey through biblical and mythological themes, Asian, ethnographic, Art Nouveau/Deco, saloon, pin-up, fetish and contemporary art. The oldest pieces are Greek and Roman amulets dating back to 300 B.C.  

“We are showing sexuality within its historical and cultural context, not just sex acts,” she says.
Although there is no shortage of the latter. This museum isn’t for prudes. Wilzig, who bears a striking resemblance to renowned sex expert Dr. Ruth, speaks frankly and has even been known to strap on the occasional prop to demonstrate its use.
“Eroticism is in the eye of the beholder,” explains Wilzig, pointing to a painting of the Beatles – naked - just inside the entranceway.

How did a Jewish grandmother and philanthropist, who once dealt in antique Victorian jewellery and French porcelain, start down the slippery slope of adult art? Blame it on the kids.
“My son asked me to buy him a piece of erotic art,” she explains. “I didn’t even know what it was. Most was kept out of sight in order to avoid offending the general public.” But once she purchased her first piece of erotic art (which her son rejected because it was too romantic) she got hooked on the thrill of the hunt.
Now, 14 years and 12,000 sq. ft of exhibit space later, she’s still adding to the  collection.  
As we walk through the gallery, it becomes difficult, despite my best efforts, to  imagine the appeal of certain pieces – such as an oil painting of a circus performer doing a pirouette on the tip of a fellow performer’s member.
“Much of erotic art is whimsical or tongue-in-cheek,” explains Wilzig.
Political commentary is another popular theme. Several engravings show political authorities in compromising positions or priests with more than just the heavens on their minds.     

Even Disney isn’t immune to erotic speculation. “Very rare and very expensive,” says Wilzig of a cartoon depicting Tinkerbell as a stripper and the coupling possibilities of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
“The artist was threatened with a lawsuit so few versions remain,” says Wilzig
Following a particularly graphic stretch of Asian art, I’m tempted to scurry back to the relative safety of the biblical section. At least there, the representations of Adam and Eve were more suggestive than instructional. But with only one way to the exit, I forge on.   

Fortunately, the next room explores the theme of hidden art. It includes an innocuous-looking miniature Chinese porcelain rowboat that opens to reveal a couple copulating, as well as a collection of ingenious books whose naked figures are visible only when the pages are thumbed.

Foodies might better understand the culinary passion of Nigella Lawson after the next display devoted to the erotic depiction of food. Many visitors will never look at corn-on the-cob or popsicles in quite the same way.
Most Canadians will be surprised by the Inuit art in the collection. “You don’t often see soapstone carvings with genitalia,’ says Wilzig, pointing to a tumescent appendage that isn’t a harpoon, emerging from beneath a hunter’s parka.  
Another hand-carving, a wooden four-poster bed (with pillars in the shape of guess what?) by Dieter Sporleder of Germany can’t be beat for wow-factor. Its sheer size promises sweet dreams or nightmares depending on your perspective.
Competition for such acquisitions can be fierce. In a world of pornographic velvet paintings and body parts floating in embalming fluid, the search for tasteful items is a full-time pursuit. Wilzig travels the world and scrolls through thousands of eBay listings with her discriminating eye firmly focused on the cultural context of items, weeding out anything offensive or illegal such as bestiality or pedophilia.  

Yet despite the exhausting process, it is obvious that satisfaction of a worthy find still has the power to exhilarate. Wilzig is clearly proud of her most recent acquisitions. With over 100 visitors per day and advance bookings for private parties and tours, it appears that her enthusiasm is contagious. And judging from the success of international erotic museums in Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin, it seems celebrating eroticism is here to stay. Yet, by the time we reach the final exhibit which displays the phallic murder weapon used by Rodney McDowell in the cult film classic “A Clockwork Orange”, I feel more weary than exhilarated.
“If you take a rest, you can go back through the exhibits,” suggests Wilzig. “I promise you’ll notice things you missed the first time.”
Although I am tempted to take one more peek under the Scotsman’s kilt, it turns out that erotic art is much like any illicit pleasures. Much like over-indulging in chocolate or fine wine, all the peeping has left me feeling slightly queasy. Moderation, it seems, is the key to enjoyment.    

Pack Your Bags: World Erotic Art Museum is located at 1205 Washington Ave. Miami Beach, Florida 1-866-969-weam or visit: www.weam.com Admission is $15.00 U.S. No-one under 18 years old admitted.

For more information on Greater Miami, visit www.Miamiandbeaches.com
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