Universe of Desire

Type. Swipe. Search. Upload. Download. Post. Stream. These are the new verbs of desire. Our most intimate thoughts, fantasies, and urges are now transmitted via electronic devices to rapt audiences all over the world. These transmissions—from sexts to webcam masturbation feeds—are anonymous yet personal, individual yet collective, everywhere and nowhere, and they are contributing to the largest sexual record to date. In short, desire has gone viral. But what does this mean? And what does it reveal about us? This exhibition explores these very questions through a lens of digital experience by examining what we are searching for, how we do it and what we leave behind on these electronic devices. In piecing this together, we begin to expose staggering truths about who we are and how we interact in this ever-changing world of modern sexuality.

“As human behavior becomes more clickable than physical, we can’t help but wonder what this means for our most basic, biological impulse: sex.” says Mark Snyder, Director of Exhibitions and Co-Curator of “Universe of Desire.” The exhibition explores this very question by examining what we actually search for on the internet and what we leave behind.

Neuroscientists Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam, authors of the best-selling book, A Billion Wicked Thoughts, provide much of the inspiration for “Universe of Desire.” Ogas and Gaddam gathered and coded 400 million internet searches, 55 million of which (or roughly 13 percent) proved to be searches for some kind of erotic content. The findings mined from analyzing the internet habits of tens of millions of people worldwide will be on display in “Universe of Desire.”

These anonymous searches bring to question our identity by revealing both the expected “kinks” and “squicks” (squirm-inducing kinks), as well as the broad categories of shared desire that account for 80 percent of internet searches, including “cheating partners”, “youth”, “mature” and various genitalia. Confronted with this research we begin to see just how similar and different we all are as humans.

Supporting this content is a variety of media that amplifies and humanizes the scientific findings of A Billion Wicked Thoughts. Showcasing artifacts from Science, Culture, Art and Technology, Universe of Desire explores the virtual cataloging of our sexual wants, infatuations and yearnings by walking patrons through the kind of sex we, as humans, look up on the internet.

Photographer Natacha Merritt, author of Digital Diaries, has documented herself digitally for the last 14 years. As one of the first photographers to capture erotic imagery in a digital medium, a selection of this pioneering artist’s work is exhibited for the first time in its chronology, offering a visual timeline as example of photographic evolution, serving both as record and expression of our sexual desires through the last decade.

Further exploring the relationship between digital imagery and sexual fantasy, visitors to “Universe of Desire” are invited to engage with a series of video and interactive experiences. Highlights include a digital mirror created by Kevin Bleich and Gabriela Gutiérrez which literally deconstructs patrons into pixels, and projects avatars of their “digital selves” onto the walls of the gallery, while an interactive video collage from Johnny Woods lures visitors into a virtual romp of sexual artifacts designed to stimulate, provoke and delight audiences.

Additional artwork and artifacts from Science, Culture, Art and Technology include selections from The Sex Diaries Project: What We’re Saying About What We’re Doing by Arianne Cohen, a larger-than-life Facebook conversation between Rep. Anthony Weiner and Blackjack Dealer Lisa Weiss, and a giant patchwork quilt of facial expressions by Laura McMillian + Kristin Reger, ripped from beautifulagony.com, a user-generated site that invites contributors to upload images of their faces in the midst of orgasm.

Additional artwork and contributions have been provided by Dirty Pillowz, Jesse Edwards, Hiroshi Kumagai, Tony Moriello, Janos Stone, PornHub and Wasteland.

The Sex Lives of Animals

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The Sex Lives of Animals considers the tremendous complexity of animal sexual behavior. The exhibition also posits new interpretations of developing research, such as the evolutionary benefits of non-reproductive sex for both individuals and social groups within the animal kingdom.

Sex is more than a biological drive to reproduce: emergent research in the zoological field of ethology – the study of animal behavior – reveals that animals participate in an astonishing array of non-reproductive sexual behaviors. Surprisingly, all conceivable sexual partnerships and sex acts exist, from foreplay to post-coital cuddling: animals engage in kissing, hugging, self and mutual stimulation, oral sex and every kind of penetrative intercourse imaginable. Sex in the animal kingdom is as multifarious and nuanced as it is in the human realm; and sex-for-pleasure, it seems, is not just restricted to Homo sapiens.

[pullquote]“…animals engage in kissing, hugging, self and mutual stimulation, oral sex and every kind of penetrative intercourse imaginable.”[/pullquote]

To visually realize these concepts, the exhibition showcases life-sized animal sculptures created by Rune Olsen. The Museum of Sex specifically commissioned these pieces due to the artist’s ability to convey the intensity and urgency of instinctual behavior that is both arousing and transformative. Composed of the “social materials” of newspaper and tape, the sculptures explore the physical world with the immediacy and expressiveness of hand drawing. Interestingly, Olsen’s animals all incorporate anatomically-incorrect, human, glass eyes, which further juxtapose the shared instincts and urges of humans and animals.

In this “new natural history” the Museum of Sex presents an uncensored story of the birds and the bees, moving animal sexuality beyond the confines of reproduction and mating, towards discussions of orientation and cognition. The Museum invites patrons to explore the most intimate part of the natural lifecycle, where it is often said we are most animal-like, and apply these concepts to larger issues regarding sexuality in general.

Spotlight on the Permanent Collection

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This exhibition invites our patrons to explore sexuality in a way that is personal and pertinent to their own experiences – whether that might be learning a new bondage technique, contemplating the arousability of an erotic painting or fondling the authentic skin of a RealDoll™.

The following artists/pieces are currently on display:

  • David Datuna, Flower of Life
  • Daniel Handal, works from the Female Masking series
  • Keith Haring, works from the Bad Boys series
  • Mayumi Lake, works from the My Idol and Poo-Chi series
  • Marko Mäetamm, All We Have is Love
  • Pablo Picasso, Raphael et La Fornarina XI: The Pope is Open-Mouthed in His Armchair
  • Sandra Torralba, works from Estranged Sex series
  • Mike Sullivan, The Sex Lives of Robots installation
  • Stahl Stenslie, Cyber SM installation

In addition, the gallery also features: period photography, French postcards, holograms, vintage vibrators, a turn of the century anti-onanism device, full male and female RealDolls™ by Abyss Creations and objects of Kink with focus on Furries, Ponyplay and BDSM.

We invite Museum guests to revisit this gallery regularly as content is frequently updated.