“It’s not really about sex, it’s about the study of sex, the science of sex”, says Kate Forde, one of the curators. The first UK exhibition to bring together leaders in the study of sex such as Magnus Hirschfeld, Sigmund Freud, Alfred Kinsey, William Masters and Virginia E. Johnson, ‘The Institute of Sexology’ at the Wellcome Collection shows us how far we’ve come, and how far we have to go to understand human sexual response and identity. It explores the work and collections of these sexologists in their different sites of research; from labs and classrooms, to libraries and living rooms.
The labyrinthine space is filled with note books, incredibly detailed hand-drawn charts, manuals and complex diagrams. There are over 200 objects ranging from ‘Anti Baby’ Condoms from the 1980s, to 1920s hair dryer-esque vibrators and rubber diaphrams, and alarmingly spiky anti-masturbation devices from the 1880s, to decorative vessels and drawings depicting couples just enjoying the act. My favourite was a beautifully painted porcelain fruit which opened to reveal a couple copulating, blissfully unaware. Interspersed amongst the film, ethnography and medical artifacts, there is a really beautiful selection of fine art, ranging from Jonathan Stezaker’s androgynous collages to activist Zanele Muholi’s moving black and white portraits of lesbians in South Africa. Even Woody Allen’s comic sci-fi film, Sleeper, in which the ‘Orgasmatron’, an elevator-shaped machine, is used to rapidly induce the frigid couples of the future to orgasm, has its own rightful place. Brought together, these items show us how our attitude towards sexual behavior is evolving, and the remarkable diversity within the study of sex.
In the run up to Ladybeard’s Sex Issue, we spoke to the artist Neil Bartlett about his inspiring sex survey entitled ‘Excuse Me, Would You Mind If I Asked You a Few Personal Questions About Sex?’ Refiguring the traditional dynamic between audience and exhibition, visitors are invited to pick up a questionnaire, comprised of 24 unapologetically intimate questions about their sexual life, and post it into a box in the gallery.