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Come On The “Sexually Explicit” Tour

PennEventSometimes you don’t know whether to laugh or cry about museum goings-on. In their ever-ardent initiatives to attract new audiences, they try the darnedest things.

Exhibit A today is not an exhibit; it’s a tour for “Young Friends of the Penn Museum.” In honor of Valentine’s Day, they are staging an event called #Blurred Lines: The Secret Side of the Collecion.” In it, two curators will lead attendees through Penn’s* permanent collection, pointing out “artifacts depicting racy or sexually explicit material.”

I’ve posted the invitation, part of a Calendar of Events I received. (It’s just, as you’ll see, for people aged 21 to 45…)

So what do you think? Laugh or cry?

Personally, I did both, but then decided it was just sad. Even a little desperate.



  1. I’m not going to laugh or cry…I will applaud.

    I like the idea. You know the old saying…sex sells! Museums need all the money they can get nowadays to keep them going. I’m not much for trashy sex. But as long as the ‘sexed up art’ is well done, I think it is great. But why cut off the age at 45??

    Of course, I’m speaking from my point of view as an artist and a man. (Although I use the word artist loosely, as I am ‘just’ a documentary photographer.)

    I think the museums proposal for their Valentine day affair is fine. Some of the shows museums put on are sooooo boring, so I must applaud them for their creativity!!

  2. the nameless eye says:

    The age cutoff of 45 is because it is a Young Friends’ event, I am sure.

    I find this kind of event rather sad, although there are more and more of them. The fact that some ancient art is about sex is well known and is accepted as a fact of life for those who study our past. Taking it out of context and creating an event of this kind around it is a disservice to the public, who will know they are being pandered to, as well as to those who devote their lives to serious study of the ancient world. Which after all is what the Penn museum is about, or was about. Aside from anything else, I don’t know whether it would be a good Valentine’s date night–the way it comes off I imagine there would be a certain number of creeps around.

  3. MIchelle Moon says:

    Why cry? What’s illegitimate about the perennial interest of human beings in sex and in artworks depicting sexual activity? Young people are rightly critical of the traditional museum posture of pretending we’re not looking at what we’re looking at and attempting to redirect conversation to some less salient feature. That approach seems to pointedly and prudishly ignore what is essential and compelling about some museum objects. In fact, it’s hard to understand how viewing a sexually explicit object as sexual is “taking it out of context.” Sex – its role in society and religion, its depiction in art – is often the context.

    Though the Penn Museum is having fun with the theme, and making a strong appeal for attendance at what is, after all, a social program, I am also certain that the scholars and curators presenting will use the natural interest we all have in objects like this as the jumping-off point for greater understandings of the objects and cultures which created them.

    Well done, Penn Museum.

    • Cry because, to me, it’s a little odd to pick out items from a collection solely for their sexual content — not because they’re the best. It’s like going through a collection and picking out for comment only those that use the color blue or feature three people.

  4. Cry? Museums have offered thematic tours of their collections for decades. How is this any different? Love and sex have been subjects of many, many museum exhibitions. That’s okay, but a fun, informal tour is not?

    Ms. Dobrynski, with all due respect, one wonders what it is about visiting museums that you DO like. Your blog is regualrly critical of most any attempt by museums to broaden and engage an audience beyond scholars, art historians, and art critics. Dare I say you express disdain that any member of hoi polloi be allowed to set foot in what you would seem to prefer remain rarefied sanctuaries?

    This program is an example of that old museum standby, the curator’s tour. Bread and butter for most any museum, but it makes you cry? Remarkable.

  5. And, incidentally, a tour on the color blue sounds quite intriguing. Rather like the wonderful book that came our several years ago, “Blue: The History of a Color.”

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