Pussy Galore

Naomi Wilzig is not the kind of woman you'd expect to own a stash of erotic art. She's a beautiful, rosy-cheeked, 70-year-old Jewish grandmother. Her late husband, Siggi Wilzig, was by all accounts a very proper man: a bank president and one of the founders of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. For most of her life, Wilzig was a dutiful wife and tireless charity worker. Then her eldest son made an unusual request. "Ivan called and asked me to buy him some erotic conversation pieces," Wilzig says. "I was an antiquer, not by profession but by proclivity. He assumed I would know where to find such things."

When Wilzig asked a dealer which of his peers sold erotic art, he gave the enigmatic reply, "Everyone and no one." At family-friendly antique events, a dealer isn't likely to display a statue of a nude male with a raging erection. The thrill of the chase beguiled Wilzig. For fourteen years she explored America and Europe in search of nude and explicit art. She remembers her first piece with pride: "It was a shunga, a hand-painted, leather-bound Japanese pillow book that was traditionally given to married couples on their wedding night, to teach them how to please each other." Wilzig's collection boasts more than 4000 pieces of art and has been valued at ten million dollars. Now for the first time this impressive accumulation will be shown to the public. Welcome to the World Erotic Art Museum, where even the chandeliers are bedecked with naked nymphs.

The exhibition has been set up as an X-rated magical mystery tour, a history of the world's sexual predilections. A room of European art contains shocking oil paintings as well as an amazing replica of a resplendent red throne that Catherine the Great owned. Its matching plush ottoman is adorned with a lascivious golden devil whose tongue lolls seductively out of his mouth. The Asian room features 1000-year-old pornographic scrolls, ornate boxes containing ancient jade dildos, and innocent-looking porcelain statues artfully displayed to reveal the naughty bits underneath. The masterpiece is a magnificent, explicitly carved Indian Kamasutra bed — a four-penis-poster, to be exact — with eight-foot hard-ons rising to the ceiling.

Nouveau and Deco representations of lust; saloon skanks and pin-up divas; fetishized Robert Mapplethorpe photographs and surreal statues of creatures with multiple breasts and ridiculous erections — everywhere you look are exposed genitals lovingly portrayed. Still, trends emerge. The babes on display here are Rubenesque, to say the least. These women are depicted with admirable hips, thick thighs spread wide, pendulous breasts thrust proudly forward. "There are no Twiggys in erotic art," quips Wilzig. Apparently there are no average-size men either. When it comes to erotic representations of the phallus, bigger is definitely better. One of the museum's centerpieces is a towering tumescent statue ideal for obscene photo ops. Wilzig grins with pride when she shows it off. "It's outrageous. We look at sex as such a forbidden subject. But where would we be without it?" she asks.