The New Erotic Heritage Museum in Las Vegas
Monday, August 18, 2008
I’m not sure what sort of person I expected to meet when I first visited the new Erotic Heritage Museum on Industrial Boulevard at Desert Inn. I do know that it wasn’t a Methodist minister. But that’s just what executive director Ted McIlvenna is. To my greater amazement, I learned that his wife, daughter and son also are involved in the operation of the museum.
I’m as curious as anyone, I suppose, so I had to ask how a man of the cloth came to open a museum dedicated to erotica and sexuality right here in “Sin City.” The answer is that McIlvenna was initially sent by his church to study gay men, with an eye to converting them to the straight heterosexual path; when that effort failed (“zero success,” McIlvenna says), the church asked him what people needed to know about sex and sexuality. Some years and adventures later, the result is the Erotic Heritage Museum.
The museum is partly an illustrated history of erotica (including conservation efforts), partly a history of First Amendment law in the United States, and partly a museum of contemporary erotic art. When I first visited, the exhibits were only partially installed, and some items were a complete mystery to me. Now plaques explain the history and uses of all of the historical items on display.
Prominently displayed near the entrance is a “mouse wheel,” intended for use by women involved in bondage and sadomasochism. Most of the rest of the first floor is dedicated to historical displays, including an interesting timeline of the events surrounding the release of the porn film “Deep Throat” in 1972 and the legal turmoil that ensued. That controversy resulted in the “community standards rule,” which is still used to determine if artwork or activities are legally “obscene.” Certainly it’s true that community standards can vary a lot. Just look at the standards in Las Vegas and Salt Lake City.
I was very interested in the various old-fashioned “peep show” devices on display. The exhibit includes several booths of the kind that were once standard outside every military base in the country; after depositing a coin, the serviceman would be presented with a short movie. Another booth, dating from about a century ago, was designed with two compartments separated by a window. The gentleman would sit on one side of the window while a lady on the other side would display her various talents and attributes for his amusement. Not so different from some Internet sites, but considerably less convenient for both parties.
The second floor houses exhibits of contemporary erotic artists. On opening day, in early August, the exhibitors include François Dubeau, whom McIlvenna refers to as “the next Matisse,” Bobby Logic, Todji Kurtzman, Jacqueline Cooper, Keith Murray, Michael Grecco and Jefferson Gord (whose works appear downstairs, next to the mouse wheel). These works are all fine art, and I would not be surprised if McIlvenna were right about Dubeau, who has a wonderful sense of line and shape.
The museum’s organizers are interested in sex law, and in the entry foyer visitors will find a listing of pertinent court decisions going back to 17th-century England. A sign inside the museum lists “The Basic Sexual Rights of Adults,” which covers 10 points, two of which are worth quoting here.
No. 2: The right to sexual entertainment, freely available in the marketplace, including sexually explicit materials dealing with the full range of sexual behavior.
No. 3: The right not to be exposed to sexual material or behavior.
To me, those are the two most important rights of the 10 listed. If you’d like to read the other eight, then by all means drop by the museum at 3275 Industrial Road between 11 a.m. and midnight, seven days a week. Admission is $15 for adults, but Las Vegas residents receive a 50 percent discount. Click here for Megan Edward’s newest observations about this museum.
Go ahead, I dare you.