New ‘Aphrodite’ exhibit stimulates Erotic Heritage Museum

Hear our prayer, O Eros, Greek God of Sex:

Help us write this story without breaching the bounds of propriety or using "those words," offending neither prudes nor panderers, confining ourselves to relatively benign descriptions such as "large bronze penises" … amen.

Mark this as a first: interviewing a lovely young woman as a video of oral sex plays over her shoulder.

We blush … not. We’re professionals. She blushes … not. She’s professional. (No, we’re not those kinds of pros.)

"That’s what you find around here," resident curator Dorian Gomez says.

C’mon: Sex is natural, necessary and, well, a rather enjoyable diversion.

True, we’re reporting this wearing a kind of journalistic condom — we’re not those pamphlets littering the Strip — but this is the Erotic Heritage Museum.

Sexual history, artwork, education and scholarly pursuit — not sleazy booths, nekkid "live girls," rows of DVDs and molded replicas of Jenna Jameson’s globally gawked-at body parts — is the mission.

"It’s very important what we’re doing here," says Jane Hamilton, the museum’s new media director and associate curator of erotic folk art whom adult film fans know as one-time superstar and current filmmaker Veronica Hart.

"It’s the history of sex here. It’s an academic place. People will come from all over to do research."

Not that it isn’t … stimulating. Particularly with its bountiful, newly arrived "Aphrodite" exhibition — a massive, 6,000-piece import of sculpture, prints, figurines, paintings, drawings and tons of rare art books and literature that literally must be handled with gloves — courtesy of a mysterious, anonymous donor.

Start with this bondage statue of a prostrate, bound and blindfolded woman. (Do it NOW, worm!)

"It’s amazing attention to detail, how they’ve captured the fishnet feeling with the lace on top," Gomez says. "You don’t see a lot of fine art taking the spin of BDSM in a way that’s really beautiful. It doesn’t offend the senses."

Or the human head statue comprised entirely of entwined, sensually posed minibodies with ravenous appetites. "Exquisite," Gomez says. "It’s a mass orgy, a loving pile of people that form his face. You see all the musculature. As a piece of sculpture, it’s amazing."

Or "Petals," a series of sepia-toned prints celebrating (in up-close detail) the diversity of female genitalia. "That’s so important for women to see," Hamilton insists. "We get these glossy, air-brushed images all the time. Women need to know that they’re all different, it makes them feel beautiful about themselves."

Yes, in the nonprofit, Industrial Road museum — run by the California-based Exodus Trust, which also operates San Francisco’s Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality — the expected is here. Actually, everywhere. The amount of sexual depictions per square inch in this 24,000-square-foot homage to The Itch We Love to Scratch is impressive:

Vintage explicit video on about 50 monitors, dating from the turn of the century before last (these grainy fornicators are just as vigorous as any in high-def Internet porn posted last night) to "Deep Throat." (Harry Reems giving one of the great comic performances, intentionally or not — earning him a federal obscenity charge — in a film that rewrote the rules of biological function.)

Certainly we’re intrigued by the photo of scissors held near a male body part that should be quaking in Bobbitt-esque fear. (Ditto the exposed organ attached to a guy swinging an ax.) By the not-for-kiddies comic-book collection. By the Porn Star Hall of Fame. By the porn-set and peep-show re-creations starring mannequins. By the carnival-esque Ron Jeremy booth. By the museum store peddling items about natural history of a sort, without selling plastic dinosaurs.

By the primal soundtrack of human lovemaking.

By the workshops, lectures, library research and performances of erotic poetry, dance and music celebrating human sexuality, elevating the museum above the strip club/adult novelty store milieu that seemingly swallows it up.

(Though the building was donated by Harry Mohney, developer of the neighboring Deja Vu topless chain.)

And now, by "Aphrodite," the largest infusion of sexological art and artifacts — some dating back to the 14th century — since its 2008 opening.

"It’s obvious (the donor) has a deep love of the female form," Hamilton says. "There’s not a lot of male homosexuality in it. It’s all female-female or female-male, primarily beautiful women."

Indeed — and fully engaged in the art of sex:

A multidimensional, lushly rendered resin cast of Aphrodite that seems to undulate out to viewers. Color print of lovers enjoying a threesome. Collection of canes with handles sculpted into erotic scenes. Digital collages of nude models. "Through the Keyhole," an oil painting glimpsing a disrobing woman in a changing room.

Figurines of women in seemingly every act and position Venus could concoct, legs unabashedly spread, pleasure depicted as both, well, solo and collaborative efforts.

"They have a very art-nouveau feel and they come apart and go into different positions," Gomez says of the figures that can’t be touched by patrons but are displayed in various positions.

"There’s a lovely Adam and Eve bronze, with a button you push and they close together and embrace. One is a partially nude woman and if you pull out one of the drawers, a tiny little demon figure pops up and he’s on top of a woman."

Another that might make even the most laid-back visitor queasy shows a man in a robe. "It springs open and you see he’s actually got a small girl under his robe," Gomez says. "That can be controversial."

Yet part of the exploration of sex.

That’s upstairs. Back downstairs, the massive collection of old, rare books of erotic art, some worth about $2,000, are open to research by college students, sex scholars and museum members — who must handle them wearing vinyl gloves.

So the benefactor single-handedly responsible for this erotic bonanza is … who? Museum officials are mum, claiming the donor requests anonymity, offering only this:

"It wasn’t about the money, he had more money than he knew what to do with," Gomez says.

"A lot of people who donate to the Trust want to get rid of it before the family has to go through it (after their death). A lot of these pieces are better off in a trust. A family may not understand the value and sell it off at a swap meet."

By the way, she adds: "This is only the first wave."

Stand by for more delicate descriptions of explicit erotica. Oh, as we mentioned in our opening prayer:

Yes, there are large bronze penises.

Amen and adios, Eros.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@review or 702-383-0256.

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