The text below is the excerpt of the book Sex in the Cities – Amsterdam, written by Hans-Jürgen Döpp, published by Parkstone International.
Nobody thought it would make any money when the Sex Museum opened its doors in 1985. For the first few weeks, admission was actually free. Today, however, over 500,000 visitors to Amsterdam enter the museum every year.
Perhaps it was a good omen when two ancient objects of an erotic nature turned up in the soil during excavation for the building of the museum. One of them was a cracked tile on which a card-playing man was depicted sporting an evident erection – maybe betraying the excitement of a winner. The other was a small statuette of the Greek god Hermes with a giant tumescence, probably imported from the Mediterranean centuries ago by a Dutch merchant. In their time, such figurines were not only fertility icons but also good luck charms.
At the opening of the Museum, Monique van Marle may well have been the youngest museum director in Europe – young enough still to depend on the support and advice of her father. The museum’s contents were not particularly numerous. All that could be taken for granted in the enterprise was the public interest in the erotic, whether for historical, artistic or other reasons.
Museums are meant to reflect every aspect of life and culture in Europe, yet this clearly crucial part of life remains under-represented, despite the fact that artists of cultures from all over the world have created outstanding works on the subject. Simply asking a curator where the erotic art may be found in an art museum is often met with a negative response. And in any case, erotic works tend to hit museums’ moral blind spot – so that they might, for example, on the one hand, display the borrowed Landscape with Stagecoach by Thomas Rowlandson, a master of erotic caricature, while showing nothing else characteristic of his work; and on the other hand, they might hide any erotic work that formed part of their own inventory away in a secluded basement.
“Unsuitable for listing in inventory” was the label on a suitcase of artworks found in the cellar of one renowned German museum.
Public morality in matters of sex has moved more slowly over the past thirty years than other aspects of modern culture – with the result that the Sex Museum has had to be established through private initiative.
The reactions of the Museum’s first visitors confirmed the proprietors’ hopes: the public not only accepted the Museum as a museum, but – regardless of age or gender – were intrigued. The listed contents increased in number and variety as the museum itself gained attention and success. After sixteen years of apprenticeship, Monique was able to assess all of the objects that came into the Museum’s possession with reverence and expertise, as well as an idea of how to display them appropriately.
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