By Julie Littman
Next to a Starbucks, a few blocks from the loud parties and bars in Miami Beach, is a quiet building filled with penises, vaginas and people having passionate sex. Still, The World Erotic Art Museum (WEAM) isn’t a vault of pornography, nor is it an adult fetish club. It’s a fine-art collection containing erotica from all over the world.
“So many people are unaware that erotic art has been created throughout the centuries,” Founder Naomi Wilzig stated on WEAM’s website. “They have such a narrow-minded vision without realizing that without eroticism, without the sexual acts which are depicted, there would be no people. What the art does is visualize the thoughts and activities of habits of people throughout the ages.”
Wilzig, an antique dealer and collector, began her collection after her son challenged her to find a piece of erotic art for his apartment that he could use as a conversation piece. Once Wilzig began her search, she was engrossed. Wilzig searched for the garish, the unique and the outlandish depictions of erotica. She collected trinkets, sculptures, paintings and even Picasso drawings.
She later turned her collection into the WEAM to share it with the public. The museum portrays not only different forms of art, but also different views of sexuality. Visitors can see phallic symbols from Congo, paintings of a Japanese couple in the act of carnal sex—even artwork from Frank Follmer, a Disney animator who creates erotic scenes with company characters. There are celebrity pin-ups of Bunny Yeager and Marilyn Monroe, as well as the actual penis sculpture actor Malcolm MacDowell used as a murder weapon in Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 adaptation of “A Clockwork Orange.” There isn’t much this collection doesn’t have.
“Much of our art celebrates birth and the continuation of fertileness of our land and the fertileness of our people, and it’s celebrated in art,” Robert Harbour said, staff photographer and marketing at WEAM. “This is the most fascinating thing about this museum, to see how art is morphed into this liberation of the human sexuality.”
Four pieces stand out to Harbour as capturing the museum’s mission. The first is a giant, gold, fiber-glass penis people often pose with and photograph.
“It’s kitschy and garish and it says what every other museum fails to say about the human condition,” Harbour said of the piece. “It leaves it open to the individual person to make their own meaning of it.”
A chair commissioned to replicate one owned by Catherine the Great which was destroyed during WWII depicts erotic scenes and captures the Russian monarch’s excesses. The throne is decorated with penises and vaginas and reveals much of how Catherine the Great spent her play time, according to Harbour.
There’s a realistic carnival horse complete with an erect penis, unlike regular merry-go-round horses which lack that part of the anatomy. Finally, there’s also a king-sized bed with hand-carved penises that depict 138 Kama Sutra positions and offers visitors a broader, symbolic view of sexuality through its carvings.
“Not only is the bed a symbol of sexuality, but when you get down to [the details of the bed], you see the business of sexuality as well,” Harbour said.
“All of these sum up the nature of the human condition and the inevitability of the human condition,” Harbour said. Most importantly, the collection is meant to give patrons a better understanding of that same condition without sugar-coating it.
Though Wilzig passed last year, the museum will continue to showcase her life’s work, according to Harbour. The museum often receives requests from people trying to donate or sell their art to the collection, but with almost 4,000 pieces on display and another 1,000 in storage, the museum staff and the founder’s family remain content with the current collection.
“I hope [patrons] understand the uniqueness about their individual life and their human sexuality and the importance of it,” Harbour said. “[WEAM] gives them the opportunity to see where they are in the vastness of all people who came before them in all the different cultures that existed on this planet and to see how good they have things.”