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Golden gals gone nude at the World Erotic Art Museum

Wardell Brown

Some people jog first thing in the morning. Others fart. Some even shave their backs. But when a co-worker, a newbie at the time whom I'll affectionately call "Whizzle," said, "The first thing I do when I get up is watch The Golden Girls," I knew I had met the vertunkenflunken (a special St. Olaf herring dish) to my triple chocolate cheesecake.

Like her, before I even scratch the morning crust from my eyes, I flip on the tube and watch episode after episode of the elderly and coyly erotic '80s sitcom.

So after Whizzle made her comment at the water cooler, we both excitedly spouted off a few quotes. Then we named our personal faves — mine was Dorothy, played by actress Bea Arthur; hers was Sophia, played Estelle Getty. Our bond was cemented as solidly as Sophia's son Phil's attraction to skimpy lingerie. Soon we were carpooling to work, taking spinning classes, and running through my apartment trying to catch my rogue pet finch in a pasta strainer.

Who knew the power of the GG was so strong?

The World Erotic Art Museum (1205 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-532-9336) understands the force of the frisky foursome. This is why it recently hosted the East Coast debut of an art exhibit devoted solely to lewd, lascivious, and liver-spot-revealing renderings of the Golden Girls. For the thickheaded among you: This is a bunch of old ladies — buck-naked. And it's worth a visit.

It's a homecoming of sorts for "Golden Gals Gone Wild," or at least its senescent models. The TV show on which they appeared still airs on the Hallmark Channel and was set in Miami. It told the story of four elderly ladies — Dorothy, Sophia, Blanche (Rue McClanahan), and Rose (Betty White) — living and lusting together like college coeds.

Lenora Claire is the magenta-haired and distinctly buxom former journalist who created and curated "Golden Gals Gone Wild." The 29-year-old counterculture sexpot looks like she has to literally pour her voluptuous body into her signature skintight black dress. She got the idea for the quirky exhibit in early 2007 after making a very interesting discovery when searching for GG DVDs on eBay.

"I typed the words Golden Girls into my computer, and one of the first things that popped up was a link that read, 'Nude portrait of Bea Arthur.' So, naturally, I had to click on it. And it was an amazing oil painting of Bea!"

Claire ended up snagging the 11-by-14-inch portrait, which was painted by Los Angeles-based artist Chris Zimmerman. She paid $100 and immediately hung it over her bed. That (shocker!) ended up taking a serious toll on her sex life.

"Guys would come over, take one look at the painting, and be like, 'I can't do this here; I just can't.' And I'd say, 'You gotta get down with Bea if you want to get down with me.' It just seemed like everyone who saw the painting freaked out really hard about it, which got me thinking, Wow, art is supposed to really make people think and feel, and this one piece really seems to be doing that."

With that thought swirling around in her mind, she interviewed the still-beautiful 76-year-old actress Julie Newmar — who had been a Playmate, Catwoman in the '60s TV show Batman, and an object of worship in Patrick Swayze's 1995 film To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar. After noticing Newmar's much younger boyfriend, who had come along for the interview, Claire had an epiphany.

"It troubled me that people were so grossed out by the idea of senior sexuality. Old people are boning. And you know what? When I'm old, I hope I am too."

Then Claire contacted 40 painters and sculptors she knew in Los Angeles — including the late South Florida native and former Marilyn Manson bassist Gidget Gein, as well as Ed Mironiuk, who has done art for Saturday Night Live's cartoon segment "TV Funhouse." She asked them to create pieces with three criteria: They had to involve erotica and the Golden Girls, and no copyrighted images could be used.

Then she came up with the name: "Golden Gals Gone Wild."

"I called it that because I didn't want Disney/Touchstone to come after me," she explains, referring to the company that now owns the rights to the Golden Girls name. But trouble came from another front. Joe Francis, the controversial producer of Girls Gone Wild, sent a cease-and-desist order. "It's now framed at my father's house," she says.

That didn't stop her, though. She gathered pieces ranging from a Swarovski crystal-encrusted walker by artist Zackary Drucker (which eventually sold for $5,000) to giant puppet heads resembling the characters.

Her show opened August 11, 2007, in the vacant bottom floor of a building on Hollywood Boulevard. Naked strippers wore the puppet heads (which never sold because their creator couldn't part with them). TMZ, the Globe, and the National Enquirer all contacted her. The exhibit lasted a month. Most of the art sold for $100 to $3,000.

"I would prefer not to say how much money I made, but let's just say I walked out with a purse full of money... enough for me to throw it up in the air when I got home and roll around with it in bed."

A few months later, Claire threw another Golden Girls-themed show. Then she organized exhibits centered on Britney Spears, Britney versus the Golden Girls, and pinup Bettie Page. She claims some of the art was priced as high as $100,000.

Early this year, 75-year-old Naomi Wilzig, owner of South Beach's World Erotic Art Museum, called Claire and invited her to stage "Golden Gals Gone Wild" at the southeastern tip of the nation's geographic version of a wang. So Claire asked artist friends to create some new work. They came up with 20 paintings and one Tiffany-style lamp that includes glass flowers made to look like each of the GGs' vaginas (by artist Life in Glass).

Last week, Claire showed me and about a dozen other people her wares at the opening of the exhibit. It fits well into the small Beach museum. The paintings aren't conventional, but many are hilarious.

One of them, by Gigi DeLuxe, a tattoo artist from Chicago, shows the ladies wearing nothing but flaming Satan horns and heart-shaped pasties.

Then we pass four small, eight-by-ten-inch oil nudes made by Chris Zimmerman, the artist Claire bought her original Bea Arthur nude from on eBay. They're Varga Girl-like — if Vargas had painted women in their 60s and 70s. My favorite Zimmerman piece shows Sophia — bony, naked, and smiling — as she stands a tad hunch-backed with her slightly sagging but still fetching breasts out front.

Zimmerman did a painting "of a nude Bea against leopard skin that sold for $2,500 at the L.A. show," Claire explains. "So I took him from being a $100 artist to a $2,500 artist."

Then we pass a photo of a six-foot-tall rendering of Rue McClanahan that mosaic portrait artist Jason Mecier showed at the L.A. exhibit. It's made entirely of condom wrappers, a hair pick, and to-go items from the Cheesecake Factory. All of the objects were found in the actress's garbage.

"I've got a great story about her," Claire says. "When I heard that she was having a signing for her book My First Five Husbands... And the Ones Who Got Away, I decided I wanted to get a picture of me and Rue posing next to my oil painting of Bea. So I brought it to the book signing and made a huge ruckus. Rue was not pleased when I told her my intentions, and said, 'That sounds like something Blanche would do, not something Rue would do.' I basically stole the spotlight from her, and I don't think she appreciated it."

Gee, Rue, way to thank someone for being your friend.

View a slide show here.


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