New Institute of Sexology Celebrates History of Erotic Art, Film, Photography

“The Institute of Sexology” urges visitors to "undress their minds."

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Carved ivory statue of a copulating man and womanPhoto: Courtesy Science Museum, London/Science and Society Picture Library
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Carved ivory statue of a copulating man and womanPhoto: Courtesy Science Museum, London/Science and Society Picture Library
Carved ivory statue of a man and woman copulating
Photo: Courtesy Science Museum, London/Science and Society Picture Library
Invocation a l'amour (c. 1825)Photo: Courtesy Wellcome Library, London
Invocation à l'amour (c. 1825)
Photo: Courtesy Wellcome Library, London
Pottery bottle or jug in the form of a malePhoto: Courtesy Science Museum, London
Pottery bottle or jug in the form of a male
Photo: Courtesy Science Museum, London
Anonymous photographer, Man in stockingsPhoto: Courtesy of The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction
Anonymous photographer, Man in stockings
Photo: Courtesy of The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction
A camel whose body is composed of copulating humansPhoto: Courtesy Wellcome Library, London
A camel whose body is composed of copulating humans
Photo: Courtesy Wellcome Library, London
Terracotta statuette of the god HorusPhoto: Courtesy Science Museum, London
Terracotta statuette of the god Horus
Photo: Courtesy Science Museum, London
Chinese wood and glass mirror box (c.18th century)Photo: Courtesy Science Museum, London/Science and Society Picture Library
Chinese wood and glass mirror box (c. 18th century)
Photo: Courtesy Science Museum, London/Science and Society Picture Library
Max Koch and Otto Rieth, Der Act (1895)Photo: Courtesy of The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction
Max Koch and Otto Rieth, Der Act (1895)
Photo: Courtesy of The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction

The Wellcome Collection has turned to the sauciest of subjects in its latest exhibition, “The Institute of Sexology”, which celebrates sex studies pioneers with a wide range of objects encompassing archival material, ethnographic, and medical artifacts, as well as art, erotica, film, and photography.

This is the first exhibition at the London institution after its £17.5 million expansion, and it inaugurates a new gallery created specifically to host large, year-long shows.

It seems a timely moment to delve into the frisky topic that’s, more than ever, on everybody’s minds. After all, what could the success of 50 Shades of Gray—soon to be a blockbuster film, directed by Sam Taylor-Woodthe high ratings of the sexology-focused TV series Masters of Sex, and our current obsession with celebrities’ derrieres, be telling us?

But the co-curator of the exhibition Kate Forde was keen to stress that the exhibition “is not really about sex” but about “the study of sex, the science of sex,” she told the Guardian.

And the show does indeed offer a scholarly survey on the history of key sexologists and anthropologists—including Sigmund Freud, Marie Stopes, Alfred Kinsey, Wilhelm Reich, Magnus Hirschfeld, Margaret Mead, Bronislaw Malinowski, William Masters, and Virginia Johnson—who conducted the experiments and studies that turned sex into a scientific discipline, transcending traditional prejudices and taboos.

The exhibition also features several works by contemporary visual artists that approach the questions of sexual identity and desire from a less scientific perspective, including John Stezaker, Sharon Hayes, Zanele Muholi, and Timothy Archibald.

But it is perhaps the wealth of gadgets, images, and statuettes (among which the profusion of erect penises is quite noticeable), originally aimed at titillating users across a wide range of societies—from Ancient Greeks to the puritan Victorians—that will trigger blushing cheeks and muffled giggles in audiences of all ages.

“The Institute of Sexology” is now open at the Wellcome Collection, London, and runs until September 2015.

Check some highlights from the exhibition in the slideshow above, and watch a trailer below.


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