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Naomi Wilzig Collection – An Art Collection on the Cultural History of Sexuality

Naomi Wilzig Art Collection – A Collection on the Cultural History of Sexuality


The five-year research and exhibition project, funded by the Miss Naomi Art Foundation, is concerned with art collection of the US-American collector Naomi Wilzig (1934-2015).

Since 2018 parts of the collection have been coming to Humboldt University on loan to be indexed, researched and exhibited under the direction of the Research Center. The aim is to make the objects and the collection history accessible to scientific research, to make the work of Naomi Wilzig known to a broader public, and to develop formats of object-based learning on sexuality in university education.

Naomi Wilzig started collecting erotic art in 1983 and soon became a sought-after buyer of erotic art. In 2005 she opened her own Erotic Art Museum (WEAM) in Miami Beach, Florida, presenting a large part of her collection in a permanent exhibition. Naomi Wilzig wanted to make erotic art publicly visible and highlight its inspirational effect as a source of individual and collective self-knowledge and to show sexuality as a significant and respectable part of human history. For her commitment she received an honorary doctorate from the "Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexology" in San Francisco.

The collection comprises more than 4000 objects from different centuries, continents and cultures and provides an excellent basis for the research into the cultural history of sexuality, gender, love, gendered images, emotions and desires. The collection conveys insights into sexuality in culturally specific forms and manifestations. It is comparable to the collection which the Jewish sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935) kept in his Institute of Sex Research  in Berlin until it was destroyed by the Nazis in 1933.

The project places the collection of erotic art in a new context, by looking at the objects as evidence of a cultural history of sexuality from ancient times to the present. The goal  is to document the collection for future use and establish a database of the collection for research and teaching, to publicly display objects from the collection in cooperation with other museums, as well as the development of interdisciplinary research topics and methods of object-based learning on the history of sexuality.

The projects are realized in cooperations with different Berlin museums (Werkbundarchiv – Museum of Things, Bode Museum, Museum of European Cultures) and international research institutions (Kinsey Institute/Indiana University, Sexual Knowledge Unit/Exeter University)


In 2017 the Research Center realized an exhibition on Magnus Hirschfeld and his institute at WEAM which shows an array of photos of objects and display cases from Hirschfeld’s institute. The panel exhibition was a recast of the Berlin exhibition “From the Museum of Passions” which the Research Center realized in 2015 and which aimed to bring into conversation the collection practice of Naomi Wilzig and Magnus Hirschfeld.


In 2018, the Research Center curated the exhibition “The Eroticism of Things. Collections on the History of Sexuality” together with the Werkbundarchive – Museum of Things (Werkbundarchiv – Museum der Dinge), which displayed more than a hundred objects from the collection of Naomi Wilzig alongside objects from the collections of the sexologists Magnus Hirschfeld (1868– 1935) and Alfred C. Kinsey (1894–1956). The objects from the three collections were complemented with items from the holdings of the Werkbundarchiv - Museum of Things and other collections and accompanied by two contemporary artworks by Stephanie Sarley and Marc Martin.

The central theme of the exhibition was the history of collecting erotic objects and their different classifications. The exhibition innovatively combined a cultural history of sexuality with the history of everyday culture and objects from the late 19th century and the 20th century. The show did not replicate each collector’s classification system but arranged a selection of everyday objects from the collections according to a new set of criteria. It investigated the historically changing distinction between sexuality, eroticism, pornography and obscenity and highlighted the eroticization of things as a cultural practice.



In January 2019, the Research Center organised the international interdisciplinary workshop "Sexuality at the Museum: Educational Concepts" together with the Sexual Knowledge Unit at the University of Exeter and with the support of the lab.Bode of the Bode Museum, Berlin. Taking objects from the collection of Naomi Wilzig as a starting point, the workshop addressed the question how paintings, sculptures, drawings as well as everyday and design objects can be used in educational work in museums in order to discuss current and historical norms and concepts of sexuality and gender. [more]


In July 2019 we presented objects from the Naomi Wilzig collection in the group exhibition “In_visible realness”. This exhibition took place on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion and the 100th anniversary of the founding of Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Science.


In December 2019 the exhibition “The Eroticism of Things. Collections on the History of Sexuality" travelled to WEAM in Miami Beach, where it was on display from 2 December, 2019 to 30 March, 2020. (photos from the opening and installation views)


In the winter semester of 2019/2020 Hannes Hacke led the practice-based seminar “You sexy thing– collecting and exhibiting sexuality“ in cooperation with the Museum of European Cultures in Berlin. Students from the department of European Ethnology at Humboldt University conducted research on selected objects from the collection of Naomi Wilzig, learnt about the different aspects of handling, describing and documenting museum objects and realized a final presentation of the objects at the Museum of European Cultures.


In October 2020 the online workshop "Exhibitionism: Sexuality at the Museum” took place. The workshop was organized in cooperation with the Kinsey Institute and WEAM, and served as a pre-workshop for the conference of the same name which will take place December 9-11, 2021. For more information see the website of the conference.


In July 2021 the online workshop "Taking Museum Engagement on Histories of Sexuality and Gender Online" brought together curators, museum educators, and academics currently developing digital public engagement work around histories of gender and sexuality in order to discuss and reflect on what are the hurdles and what we can gain from conducting this work online. Jointly organised by Hannes Hacke from the Research Center and Dr Ina Linge, co-director of the Sexual Knowledge Unit at the university of Exeter.


On 9-11 December 2021, the international online conference "Exhibitionism - Sexuality at the Museum" took place. The conference was organised by Hannes Hacke (HU) in cooperation with Rebecca Fasman (Kinsey Institute) and Melissa Blundell-Osorio (WEAM). It was featured 40 speakers from academia, museums, art, and pedagogy whose work deals with the topic of sexuality in museums, collections and exhibition spaces. Over 250 people took part. The conference presentations are still available to registered participants. A conference volume is in preparation. More information is available on the conference website.


From 2020 to 2022 the Research Center worked on the digitization and online presentation of the collection in a searchable online database. This includesd the digitization of more than 5000 negatives, the development of a critical, non-discriminatory, sexuality specific vocabulary for the cataloging of the collection and the in-depth research on selected objects.

International students joining the Research Center through the Humboldt Internship Program assisted with the description and indexing. Read more on their experiences and on specific collection areas and objects in this blog.






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Video: Naomi Wilzig speaking about the beginning of her collection (2010).


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WEAM, Miami Beach, USA


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Relief from the Naomi Wilzig Art Collection











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Exhibition Magnus Hirschfeld




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Workshop Sexuality at the Museum

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In_visible realness installation view


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The Eroticism of Things at WEAM


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Student presentation at the Museum of European Cultures


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Workshop "Exhibitionism: Sexuality at the museum"


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Screenshot from the Symposium "Taking Museum Engagement on Histories of Sexuality and Gender Online"


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Conference website


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Online database "Digital Naomi Wilzig Art Collection"