Naomi Wilzig certainly doesn’t look like a world renowned authority on erotic art. In fact, she looks remarkably like what she is a 70-year-old Jewish grandmother from New Jersey who dotes on her children and grandchildren. But Wilzig often called “Miss Naomi” is indeed one of the world’s leading authorities on erotic art, the author of five books on the subject, and the founder and president of The World Erotic Art Museum in Miami Beach.
Visit Miami Beach for erotic art.
“When I went to my 50th high school reunion a couple of years ago,” Wilzig recalls while sitting in her museum office, “everyone was totally surprised at what I was doing…I was always such a nerd! It just blew them away.”
Indeed, there was nothing in Wilzig’s background to suggest that she would eventually become the owner of 4,000 pieces of erotic art, valued at more than $10 million 2,200 of them now on display in the recently opened museum. One of six children born to Orthodox Jewish parents in Newark, New Jersey, in 1953 Wilzig married Siggi B. Wilzig, a survivor of Auschwitz, who went on to become founder of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, and CEO and President of The Trust Company of New Jersey, a major commercial bank until his death several years ago.
Live performance erotic art.
The Wilzigs had three children Ivan (known as Sir Ivan, the Peaceman), a recording artist for Arista Records; Sherry Izak, CEO of Wilshire Enterprises; and Alan, a real estate developer and former president of Trustcompany Bank and in addition to raising their children, the Wilzigs were well known for their many civic and philanthropic efforts. Naomi was a founder of Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem; founder of the Wilzig Hospital Center in Jersey City, New Jersey; a lifetime member of the Florida Holocaust Museum ; and the only woman ever honored as “Woman of the Year” by Congregation Adas Israel in Passaic, New Jersey .
Along with her books on erotic art, Wilzig is also the author of “Lifetime to Eternity,” an award-winning script on Jewish identity which was honored by the Women’s Division of Orthodox Congregations of America, and “The Suffering Survivor,” a poetic account of the Holocaust.
So how did this unassuming grandma become an expert on erotic art?
Pretty much by accident. It was her eldest son, Ivan, now founder of the Peaceman Charitable Foundation, who asked his mother to “bring me some erotic conversation pieces” for his bachelor apartment. Today, 14 years later, Wilzig’s visits to antique shops and flea markets across the United States and throughout Europe have resulted in what is widely considered to be the greatest collection of fine erotic art in the United States .
Collecting has long since passed from being “my little pastime,” says Wilzig, who feels strongly about the importance of the art she has accumulated.
“These works serve no great value sitting at home,” she says. “Centuries-old oil paintings, water colors, rare sculptures and statues cast in bronze demand to be seen. These are works of art that illustrate the evolution of erotica, the cultures and the time frames in which they were created. It is a genre of art that is aesthetically important and should be seen as a pathway through history and its cultures.”
Hand carved Kama Sutra.
In keeping with Wilzig’s lifelong “academic bent,” The World Erotic Art Museum houses a research library with more than 250 volumes on erotic art that she has purchased. In the museum, located on the second floor of a former office building in Miami Beach, you are greeted in a foyer dominated by the legendary Fountain of Diana, The Huntress. Making your way through a series of carpeted fiber optic-lit cubicles, on display you will see an extraordinary mix of paintings, sculptures, and tapestries that visually illustrate the historic perspective of erotic art drawn from the early days of the Roman Empire to the contemporary world of such memorable art sculptures as the male organ made famous in Stanley Kubrick’s controversial 1971 film, “A Clockwork Orange.”
There’s even a massive four-poster bed handcarved from Germany depicting the positions of the KamaSutra. Wilzig notes that there are three common themes in erotic art reproduced throughout the centuries Adam and Eve, Leda and the Swan (a Greek myth of adultery and seduction), and various representations of Satyrs and Nymphs; many pieces relating to those themes can be found in the museum.
Although Wilzig is now approached by dealers worldwide who are interested in selling to her, in the beginning finding such pieces was more akin to a scavenger hunt. “It was a challenge,” she says. “Many people keep such work hidden away so as not to offend anybody.” Wilzig herself didn’t broadcast her newfound passion to many people “I kept it secret for a long time” but after several years, “It came to me how important this was. I woke up one day and said, ‘You’ve done something impressive and important.’”
The nude as art.
Wilzig is careful to point out that she doesn’t consider her collection pornographic and, in fact, distinguishes the difference between pornography and erotica. “Pornography has just one message, it’s designed to arouse the viewer,” she says. “This is not that kind of collection.”
“Erotic art, on the other hand,” she observes, “displays artistic talent, originality, and creativity, and engages you in the thought processes of the artist.”
After guiding visitors through the 12,000-square-foot museum, Wilzig stops by her office and says, “I don’t want this museum to be known as a sex place. I want it to be known for its art.”
The World Erotic Art Museum is located at 1205 Washington Avenue , Miami Beach , Florida ; Hours are to , and admission is $15 per person. Visitors must be 18 or order to enter. For more information, call (305) 532-9336 or visit www.weam.com.
By Carol Sorgen, Baltimore Jetsetters Magazine Correspondent.