In honor of our People Issue, which will hit newsstands and computer screens November 24, Cultist presents "Miami Backstage," where we feature some of the city's behind-the-scenes culture makers. Have suggestions for future profiles? Email email@example.com with the whos and whys.
Twenty years ago, Naomi Wilzig, the curator of South Beach's World Erotic Art Museum (WEAM) reinvented herself, when she went from innocuous antiques collector to ravenous erotic artifact scavenger to the dismay of her late husband, her daughter, and countless uptight nay-sayers. Now, when Wilzig visits antique fairs, the 76-year-old wears cardboard signs around her neck that say "I want erotic art."
acceptance in the community, and an important place beyond the erotic
The Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in the study of
erotic art, Wilzig, an Orthodox Jew, also holds an honorary doctorate
from the U.S. Rabbinical Council for her philanthropy and finances an
entire week of Holocaust education events in Miami Beach each January.
words for us.
create the museum was a major project in my life. I was at a point
where I had all this art, and what do you do with it? Do you sell it, do
you give it away? So I searched for five years to find a location, and
had been turned down by cities, landlords, politicians, gossips, by all
different things, until finding the location. The biggest accomplishment
of my life, and the most recent thing which was major, was to actually
open the museum. Even though it's six years old, I haven't done anything
to compare to that as an accomplishment.
we have Rembrandt coming. We want the town to realize --- no, we want
to usurp their wrong attitude that we are a sex place, or that we have
porn here, or that we're scuzzy, or anything else. We are so high class
and cultural, that our next exhibit is going to be Rembrandt. So that's
opening November 29th.
become a passion of my life. It's given my life direction at a point
where you ask, what do you do when you're older? How long can you sit by
a pool and vegetate? Actually collecting the erotic art, and buying it,
and researching it, and displaying it has kept me healthier than I was.
Because I was at a point where I went to my doctor for my annual
checkup, and I had high blood pressure. And he asked if I could
attribute it to any stress. And I said, "Well, I guess I have some
stress. I'm collecting erotic art and I'm about to write a book about
it, and my husband doesn't approve."
And the doctor, who was a religious
Jew also, said, "If that gives you the reason to get up and go each
day, the impetus to welcome that you woke up that day and you have
something to do and some place to go, that is more important for your
health than any pill you can take or anything you can do. So keep on
I've done. That's a great sense of accomplishment, to do something for
the community. For awakening people's minds, expanding their education,
and making them realize there's all different lifestyles in the world.
And our sexuality is basic to all people. I feel I'm doing something
important by creating this for people to see.
want them to know they made a mistake. And they put me under constant
pressure to stay here under financial struggle. I've proven myself,
because like all other communities, they turned me down. They misjudged
what I was going to do, and didn't let me into buildings.
a struggle for me to be here on the second floor [of this building on
Washington Avenue], because [patrons wonder] what are they going up
into? Will somebody accost them? Will they see something unpleasant? How
will they get out if they're upstairs?
found a wonderful location on Lincoln Road several years ago. But the
planning board said "We want Lincoln Road to stay 'family friendly.' And
we won't approve you there." And as a result, I have a great financial
struggle here, where I would have been a whopping success on Lincoln
Road. They tied my hands before I had a chance to prove that I am
cultural and artistic and that I would never let children in or do
anything to make it non-community friendly.
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don't know how many people really know that I have had a younger
companion for many years. Twenty-five years younger, for the last 20
years, and he's still around. And it's a biracial relationship. Those
that know it, know it, but most people think he's my bodyguard because
he was a private investigator when I first met him. So in the beginning,
I would introduce him as my bodyguard. But later, I would say, "He
guards my body so no one else comes near it."