71 year old grandmother opens up erotic art museum
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- For the last 15 years, Naomi Wilzig has arrived at antique shows with a sign hanging around her neck: "Buying Erotica."
The 71-year-old grandmother has the sign in six languages, and antique dealers all over the globe know they'll have to come up with goods, not just pillow talk, to impress her.
In October, Wilzig hung out a new sign, opening the World Erotic Art Museum in Miami Beach to display the 4,000-piece collection she has amassed. Now her museum attracts about 75 visitors a day, Wilzig said.
"They're fascinated by the bed, by the Catherine the Great chair, by the penis chair, by the plaque of vaginas," said Wilzig, naming some of the museum's pieces. "They stand there staring."
While several other museums, both in the United States and worldwide, are devoted to sex, Wilzig says her museum is the only wholly private collection of erotic art on display. The country has two other sex-themed museums: one in Hollywood, Calif. and New York City, and plans are underway to open a Las Vegas sex museum this fall. Museums in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin and Paris are also devoted to the subject.
Visitors and collectors both say Wilzig's collection is impressive, and surprisingly informative.
"She really looks at it from a historical, anthropological perspective," said Laura Henkel, an associate professor at San Francisco's Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality and the director of acquisitions and assistant curator for the erotic museum opening in Las Vegas.
While the two other U.S. museums focus largely on 20th century or American materials, lining Wilzig's walls are objects from places ranging from Amsterdam to Zaire.
There are 2,000-year-old terra-cotta Roman oil lamps depicting sexual scenes, jade and clay dildos from China and silk sex manuals from Japan called "shungas." Other objects are more modern - suggestive chess sets, perfume bottles, wind-up toys and even a phallic prop from the 1971 movie "A Clockwork Orange."
Then, there's the bed.
"You can't come through here without talking about the bed," Wilzig said.
She's talking about an oversized four-poster, with an 8-foot phallus at each corner. Its posts, headboard and footboard are cluttered with more than 150 different carvings of sexual positions. Wilzig says the bed's German creator offered to sell it after he divorced.
But while the bed may be the collection's show piece it's the diversity of the objects that continuously surprises visitors, Wilzig said.
"If anything it opens your eyes to the role it plays in all cultures and over time," said Peter Bonyun, a Washington state resident who visited the museum while on a recent vacation.
Wilzig said she was surprised when she began collecting at how many sexual scenes are concealed under panels or inside otherwise ordinary artwork.
"Some were more obvious about it," Wilzig said. "Some hid it, but they all did it."
Wilzig wasn't always so intimately familiar with erotica. She was brought up in an Orthodox Jewish household where talking about sex was taboo. And when she began collecting antiques it was Victorian card cases and Royal Worcester porcelain.
That changed when her eldest son asked for an erotic art conversation piece for his apartment. She was a collector, she should know where to find something like that, he reasoned.
But Wilzig found her search wasn't easy, and she was tantalized when collectors told her that most erotic art was kept out of sight so as not to turn off other collectors.
Eventually, however, Wilzig found an 18th century Japanese sex manual and presented it to her son. He was thrilled; her husband, Holocaust survivor and banker Siggi Wilzig, was less amused.
Out of respect for him, Wilzig kept quiet about her newfound passion as she increased her collection. When she began publishing books on the collection a few years later it was under the name of "Miss Naomi." But when her husband passed away three years ago she decided to take her collection into the open.
Now, she is at the museum most days, and she is finding that she is an exhibit, too. Visitors who recognize her from a video playing in the museum point at her. Some ask her questions. Wilzig says she doesn't mind. She is even quick to pull out her own museum label of sorts, one of her signs: Buying Erotica.