5th Avenue between 27th and 28th Street is of those drab midtown blocks that should not be used to advertise New York. Bank buildings with chunky plastic signage are little more than oversized shells for cash machines, and there’s no way to tell whether the various realtors and soft-furnishing showrooms are open to the public. The corner diner is as arbitrary a vessel as the office tower; folk flood in and out, unchanged. This block is also the home of the Museum of Sex. I entered knowing exactly nothing about the seven-year-old educational institution.
The Sex Lives of Animals occupies the ground floor. A college-level text about the division of scientific disciplines, Darwin’s legacy, and various misconceptions about animal sexuality acted as unanticipated dry foreplay along the narrow entrance hall. The four young Italian women who clicked through the turnstile before me were unable to feign interest in fully clothed education of this sort, zipping around the corner towards a life-size papier-mâché model of three deer shagging each other. This too failed to satisfy the gang, alas, and I would not see them again. One wonders if an institution catering demonstrably to foreigners should rely this heavily on reading in English.
I spent several minutes looking at a display of bacula–penis bones–ranging in length from about an inch to two feet, and though the objects themselves were of limited interest, they were attached to their bases with haphazard spurts of hot glue. My first fantasy at the museum came with visions of exhibition preparators masturbating on the walls and not getting fired, and I was grateful to drift away. Apparently, I read, polar bears may be suffering deformation of their sex organs on account of global warming. Good to get that in there. The odd wonderful word (e.g., phalloblaster) sticks in the craw. A video of two pandas going at it cut to a scene of a panda in a cage being shown the video of two pandas going at it. Scientifically speaking, these particular documentary films are known as ‘panda porn’, and they’re used so that these endangered creatures raised in captivity, ignorant of sex, can understand what to do during their precious three-day fertility period. Let me tell you, I could watch pandas having sex all day. The male bats the female about softly with his padded paws, rolling her around like a big ball before getting her in position, as tender an enaction of animal boning as I have ever seen.
Pass some manatees doing 69 and we’re at the flourish, which at the pro-sex MoSex means it’s bonobo chimp time. Our closest genetic relatives in the animal kingdom are famously liberated sexual entities, and the exhibition wraps with a vision of “the Feminist dream realized”–so says a sexy voiceover on an otherwise rather screechy film–wherein female bonobos make decisions by rubbing their pudenda against each other in powerful sisterhood. At this moment I considered all the other things I could have done with the 15-dollar entrance fee had I surfed the Internet for half an hour and learned everything I’d just learned while not in the company of silent, expressionless German tourists.
Exhibition two, Action: Sex and The Moving Image, is upstairs and seamier from the start. Small monitors flicker with the history of sex on film and one stumbles about a blackened room otherwise lit only by pink and blue neon tubes. A few video compilations are projected from the ceiling on to low pedestals, an unusual but not unpleasant curatorial affect. I huddled over a compilation of ’70s crossover porn (Debbie Does Dallas et al.) with an elderly Japanese couple. I grew stupendously bored. There are big holes, so to speak, in this exhibition’s narrative. The influence of Scandinavian sexual mores on cinema in the ’60s is underplayed. The ’80s are rushed, criminally so, with no weight given to the bizarre and retrospectively visionary work of the Dark Brothers or Stephen “Rinse Dream” Sayadian, pornographic art that could actually surprise a museum-goer. Gay material gets a decidedly short shrift. Scenes are sliced; I saw no ejaculation. I waited for insight, awakening of some sort, and things got legitimately weird. No amount of pantomimed notebook scribbling could excuse the fact that I was wandering around in circles, hungry and alone.
I snaked off to the permanent collection. The defilable homunculus Realdolls are a treat to see in the (rubber) flesh. You’re allowed to poke them. I can report that relations with such a toy would feel like fucking a giant fake breast, but I suppose this is what many young men are looking for these days. The dolls’ eyelashes are oddly gluey and dusted in crust, making the poor things look like they’ve either just been born or are suffering from pinkeye. Is this, too, what young men are looking for these days? A suite of graphic Keith Haring prints took me back to the artist’s Whitney retrospective over a decade ago, where a surreptitious, loving sketch of a partner’s penis in a personal notebook opened my eyes to the reality of homosexuality as it’s felt. I reveled only in the robust letterpressed design aesthetic of the self-help manuals produced in the 1970s by the Omega Press. I browsed the gift shop of ancient cheeky souvenirs–edible posing pouches and penis pasta–to the sound of Katy Perry and Kylie Minogue, the least sexy music in the world. Time to flee this building and this block and forget most of this experience by having sex.
The Museum of Sex is open seven days a week, remarkably. The website offers a coupon saving money on the entrance fee. Being that I was the only unaccompanied person in the entire museum, it is highly recommended that you go with a partner. Take someone who doesn’t speak English and blend in even more seamlessly.
Bones will be on vacation next week, returning to the column and to the contemporary art scene on July 2nd.