The MoMA’s current Marina Ambramovic exhibit (featuring real, live nekkid people, OMG!!!) is attracting a lot of attention of the “that feels funny, and not funny ha-ha” variety. Lonely, lonely people who simply need to feel the warmth of another’s touch to remind us we’re all alive on this godforsaken planet Certain onlookers who will remain nameless are actually touching some of the models.
Mr. Rawls, a naked performer in the exhibit, told the New York Times of a recent encounter with a museum-goer:
“He proceeded to slide his hand onto my ribs and back and then touched my butt,” Mr. Rawls said. “As he was passing me he looked me in the eyes and said, ‘You feel good, man.’ “
Certainly the MoMA had an inkling that an exhibit with live nudes might inspire certain behaviors among visitors. As a press statement acknowledged,
In organizing the exhibition, MoMA was well aware of the challenges posed by having nude performers in the galleries. During preparations for the exhibition, discussions took place between MoMA’s security staff and Marina Abramovic and the performers to ensure that the performers would be comfortable in the galleries at all times. Since the opening of the exhibition on March 14, incidents of improper contact with the performers have been rare. Any visitor who improperly touches or disturbs any of the performers is escorted from the Museum by MoMA Security.
But, well, this can’t be a new event, we thought. Topless and full frontal has been the purview of art museums (think Venus de Milo, David, anything by that pervy Rubens character) since guys were wearing wigs, using quill pens, and enjoying sometime-sodomy.
Yeah, maybe art museums didn’t feature real, live people then — but since when have we needed real, live people for sex? And, who better to confer with on this incident of inappropriate art-touching than New York’s very own Museum of Sex? Because surely they’ve had to deal with exactly this sort of thing, if anyone has…
Apparently, not so much. There have only been 2 or 3 instances of inappropriate behavior in Director of Communications Jessica Vaccaro’s 3-year stint at the museum. When something does go into safe-word territory, trained security guards calmly escort the offenders out, to little or no media fanfare. “Memberships are not revoked,” said Vaccaro. “But usually they’re not members anyway.” (She said members — heh. heh.)
So are MoMA-goers just pervier (or more sexually frustrated) than Sex Museum visitors? Is it that nudes at the MoMA are new and unexpected, while sex at the Museum of Sex is just… obvious, kinda like the person you’ve been married to for 10 years and avoid looking at directly in bed?
“People know what they’re getting,” said Vaccaro, though she points out that the Sex Museum’s angle is “cultural/historical,” and that they’ve never featured actual people in their exhibits, nude or otherwise. Will they? “That’s not really on our radar,” she said.
Then there’s the question of whether the touchers at the MoMA are sexy-touchers or plain old boorish see-sumpthin-and-touch-it touchers. Just because they’re gropers doesn’t mean they’re thinking about sex — they may be the equivalent of random strangers touching pregnant bellies on the subway, or possessed with a form of art-world Tourette’s:
On one occasion, a leader of a tour group unaffiliated with the museum pointed to a female performer’s abdomen and loudly (and incorrectly) identified a scar as “from a Cesarean.”
Other viewers have behaved by “praising or criticizing the performers’ bodies, yelling at them to wake up when their eyes are closed, even helpfully informing nude performers, “Your fly is down.”
At the end of the day, we guess it’s all just fodder for the therapist, but we’d venture to guess that the perviest museum-goers of all hang at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. And, of course, Madame Tussauds.