Sex Outside

Los Angeles

Left: Boris Smorodinsky and Monique Chambers. Middle: An “erotic cyborg” on view in the museum. Right: Regina Lynn.

The Erotic Museum is—wait for it!—neither. But what does that mean to the hordes of strolling tourists passing Michael Jackson impersonators in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre, peering at Hollywood Boulevard's stripper-shoe stores and falafel stands before setting foot in this daunting sex-historical warehouse? Whereas the Hollywood Wax Museum and Ripley's Believe It or Not—the eroticists' chief competition near the corner of Hollywood and Highland—sell Celebrity and Oddity to the Bermuda-shorts crowd, the Erotic Museum sells a Maxim-brand experience for sightseeing looky-loos. The opening of its folk art show on last Thursday had native sex industry vets and curious out-of-towners equally dumbfounded and (happily) flummoxed.

“The Folk Art Show”'s would-be-endearingly corny trailer-park art was not the dignified fare one might find at, say, the American Folk Art Museum in New York. Nor will “outsider”-hungry hipsters find Dargeresque battalions of hermaphrodites or Joe Coleman's epic splatter sagas. Nope, in lieu of down-home visionaries taking dictation from God, you get a hook-latch rug depicting a Farrahesque nude and a bunch of pillows knotted up like a dick and balls.

The objets likewise took a back seat to the opening-night party, which was characterized by the strangely sedate giddiness of sipping box wine while surrounded by gaping orifices and unsheathed swords. “I find it shocking that shock value is even part of it,” gasped Kor-Ali, songwriter and “music activist.” “Don't people understand the vagina is the greatest work of art ever? Our puritan-ness contributes to our miseducation which contributes to our misadventures.” (Kor-Ali used the word miseducation so many times I thought he must be the treasurer of the Lauryn Hill Fan Club.) His crony Candice Ianabi, stained-glass artist and therapist for autistic children, said the stained-glass porny images by Juan Martin del Campo, Jr., reminded her of her first work in the medium: “I did a black Virgin Mary with huge bling. What's great about folk art is it shows the sensual side of the human condition in a way people can readily relate to.”

Left: A photograph on view in the museum. Right: Monique Chambers.

Anybody who's watched the Pam-and-Tommy-Lee video knows that awe-inspiring bodies in a state of radical undress cause language to descend to a primitive level somewhere about three stories below a Warhol movie; the Erotic Museum first-nighters were no exception. To wit: Boris Smorodinsky, the “CEO” of the joint, summarized his mission statement thusly: “It's the beauty of people discovering something they have. . . they didn't know they have!” Or Ian Thomas, the Museum's director of advertising, pulling out an old chestnut that dates back to the early days of adult entertainment: “I see couples put their hands in that big Plexiglas box where you can handle these dildos and sex toys, and I see the expressions they have when they look at each other and I realize—this is helping people forward their sex life.”

Regina Lynn, author of the The Sexual Revolution 2.0, a series of essays on the point where sex and technology touch, provided some much-needed wistful, innocent charm. Warm and sumptuous, Lynn, like her book, takes a cheerfully nonjudgmental approach to all mutations of the pleasure-seeking and tool-devising drives. (Her book even gives a shout out to “looners”—people sexually aroused by balloons—who are now apparently joined with one another online.) She spoke optimistically about the potential of “teledildonics”—in which one can manipulate a partner by remote-controlled sex toys while watching the other's ecstatic writhing via Webcast. Clearly, the future of multitasking is brighter than I imagined.

As the red wine was drained and the bowls of Hershey's Kisses were depleted, there was time at last to consider the permanent collection—for instance, the Wall of Fame, surely the only place where Woody Allen will be found on top of Dr. Ruth Westheimer. Or the monitor showing slightly psychedelic ‘70s-era sex-ed tapes while headphones give you head-shattering playback of phone sex: One of the few exhibits that feel more Whitney Biennial than Jimmy Kimmel. The most poignant of all the displays was a teeny, postcard-size Picasso etching of intercurled figures peering at one another with genitals vulnerably exposed. As I leaned in to look at the image, CEO Boris cautioned me in words that epitomize the Erotic Museum's uniquely bittersweet flavor: “Don't touch, or the whole evening will be ruined!”