One sunny afternoon, I drove to South Beach and as I was walking along Lincoln’s Road, I saw, quite by chance, a notice stuck in one of the shop windows, advertising the World Erotic Art Museum. It was an innocent clothes shop, not even a branch of Victoria’s Secret. Naturally, my curiosity was peeked. “What,” I thought, “might that be about? Maybe a sort of glorified peep show with some artistic posters on the wall?” I had no idea what to expect and the only way to find out was to go and have a look.
I was close by anyway, as the museum is located in Washington Avenue. Believe it or not, I walked past the entrance twice. In my imagination I had expected something garish like maybe a red door with gold lettering, a venue resembling a nightclub more than a place of art. Far from the truth. I finally spotted a simple black door with a discreet plaque next to it. I pushed the door open and found myself in a gray concrete stairwell with steps going up and up and up. Thankfully at every landing there was a small arrow and a sign indicating that I had to climb even further to contemplate erotic art whatever that might turn out to be. Trying to find out where the stairs might lead, I completely overlooked the elevator.
Finally I reached a glass door and entered a lobby with an extremely welcoming gentleman at the desk and a few of the famous Marilyn posters on the wall. Hmmm……
I handed over my admission fee of $15 and followed his sweeping gesture to ‘proceed to the rooms beyond and have a look at my leisure.’ I did as told and my breath was taken away. After the rather small lobby what opened out before my eyes was a huge exhibition. 20 rooms filled to the brim with art from all cultures and all centuries the likes of which I would never have imagined .All dealing with a subject as old as Adam and Eve.
The lights turn on and off as you proceed and you find books, furniture, paintings, sculptures, artifacts, cartoons and even jewelry all with a touch or more than a touch of the erotic. The center piece is a replica of the bed of Catherine the Great and her favorite armchair, who, as we all know was not only famous for her political achievements but also for her voracious love life.
The modern sculpture of a man’s face entirely composed from female entwined bodies caught my eye. What imagination. Naughty French cartoons with the accompanying saucy text made me laugh out loud.
Turning just another corner I came face to face with a very elegant middle aged lady who was watching me. (I happened to be the only visitor at the time). She certainly fit the image of a glamour granny. It turned out to be Naomi Witzig, the owner of the place and the entire collection. We got talking and naturally I wanted to know how she had started to become interested in erotic art.
“It’s my son’s fault, really,” she smiled. “Many years ago when he got his first apartment he asked me to find him something extraordinary to hang on his walls. And I happened upon a French painting and from there my interest grew. I have traveled the world in search of erotic art and everything you see here belongs to me. Over 2000 pieces,” she added with visible pride.
“I lecture about erotic art here at the university of Miami and am often invited abroad, most recently to Hong Kong.” Then she turned serious. “I get upset when people confuse erotic art with pornography and it’s my mission to explain the difference and give people an education. Nothing, but absolutely nothing which is even remotely pornographic will ever cross the threshold of this museum. Erotic art is just that, an art form which has been brought to the highest level of sophistication in the oldest cultures of this world.”
We spent nearly half an hour talking about art in general and her quest to add even more to her ample collection. A woman with a mission and a passion. Naomi also has a heart for budding artists and sponsors many of them with exhibitions and vernisages in her museum. Never again will the notion of ‘peep show’ cross my mind when I hear the words erotic art.
Naomi graciously allowed me to take pictures.