Sunday, October 16, 2011 was a day of triple celebration for Naomi Wilzig. She received an honorary doctorate degree, saw city officials proclaim “Naomi Wilzig Day” and marked the sixth anniversary of the World Erotic Art Museum, the museum no one wanted her to open. But, on this day, Naomi Wilzig was honored for doing exactly that.
At the museum event, and before a packed house, Wilzig looked on as City of Miami Beach Tourism Director Michael Aller presented her with a proclamation on behalf of Mayor Matti Bower that paid tribute to her courage.
“By virtue of her brilliance and determination, Naomi Wilzig has ignored many nay-sayers, politicians and landlords throughout the country and established for Miami Beach, the World Erotic Art Museum, which has become an artistic, intellectual and cultural magnet for both residents and tourists from around the world,” Aller read.
Robert Theodore Mcllvenno, president of the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, bestowed upon Wilzig an Honoris Causa Doctor of the Art in Erotology and Sexuality degree for the leading role she plays in the preservation of erotic art, and for creating, “the magnificent collection and museum known as the World Erotic Art Museum,” he said.
Mcllvenno, who heads the San Francisco-based institute, first became aware of Wilzig when she beat him to a piece of erotic art he wanted. Intrigued, he set out to learn more about her. “If there was a female God in which a sex was personified, she would have to have a sense of humor, a sense of beauty, a sense of desire, a sense of dedication and the ability to be tough and keep at it. Naomi Wilzig has all this and more,” he said.
The San Francisco-based institute is considered the “Harvard” of the sex therapy world. This degree cements Wilzig’s qualifications to lecture on erotic art and human sexuality, although she has been doing that for years. Delighting in the opportunity to be called “doctor,” though, Wilzig happily draped a stethoscope around her neck for the occasion.
Several speakers also took to the podium to pay tribute to Wilzig, who has been honored by anti-censorship advocates for her determination in opening the museum. They included human sexuality professor Carol Clark, who brings her students to hear Wilzig’s tours. “It is an honor to be paying tribute to this fabulous woman. This place is so special. It provides us with a true history lesson, said Clark.
Another speaker was Wilzig’s eldest son, Ivan, a musician and performer who goes by the name “Sir Ivan.” He is credited for starting his mother on her 20-year quest. In 1992, Ivan asked his antiques loving Orthodox Jewish mother to pick up a piece of erotic art for his new bachelor pad. She told me, ‘I don’t know what erotic art is,’ and yet she ended up bringing me 4,000 pieces of it from all over the world,” he told the crowd.
But, while Wilzig’s new pastime amused her son, it horrified her daughter, Sherry Wilzig Izak told the audience. “I came from the most ultra Orthodox Jewish background imaginable. When I was growing up, I would have gotten my mouth washed out with soap if I said anything alluding to what 4,000 items in my mother’s collection are shown doing,” she said, as the audience laughed.
“You think it’s funny, but you wouldn’t if this was your mother,” Izak retorted, adding, “I think I personally financed the raising of my therapist’s children, grandchildren, and, eventually, great-grandchildren.” But then, she added, “The first time I walked into the museum, I did a 180-degree turn. I realized that this wasn’t something to be embarrassed about. This was an accomplishment to be applauded.” Now, she says, ” I brag about my mother. After all, what Jewish girl wouldn’t want to say her mother is a doctor?”
Finally, it was Wilzig’s turn. “I look around and I am struck by the thought that all of this came about by happenstance. I went from innocence to interest and then I became obsessed with erotic art. I must have asked 25,000 times over the years to dealers, ‘Do you have any erotic art?'” Some seemed amazed, and some seemed insulted. They were not expecting this question from a middle-aged woman,” she recalled. But, ultimately, Wilzig triumphed and now oversees her collection, which is the largest publicly displayed erotic art collection in the world.
Still, the fact that erotic art is often misunderstood still amazes her, Wilzig said. “Really, we all have the same basic needs, and similar anatomy. Erotic art only speaks to our humanness. And, she added to the audience, “Today, I challenge each of you to get a piece of erotic art and display it yourself. Don’t be embarrassed by it. Don’t let it be destroyed.”
Also at the event, Joshua Hare, M.D., director of the University of Miami’s Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Research lauded Wilzig for becoming one of his center’s major benefactors. Wilzig has said it is her practice to treat every happy occasion as an opportunity to help others, and so she turned Sunday’s event into a fundraiser for Hare’s stem cell center.
This is Wilzig’s second doctorate. Last year, the U.S. Rabbinical Council for her philanthropy awarded her an honorary doctorate degree for her philanthropy. Wilzig never graduated college because, at the age of 18 and a Dean’s List student, she left school to marry her husband, the late Siggi Wilzig, then a penniless Holocaust refugee. With Naomi by his side, he became a Wall Street magnate and helped establish the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
To watch an interview with Naomi Wilzig and learn how she began collecting erotic art click here.
More info: World Erotic Art Museum
© Text by Charlotte Libov, Photo by Henry Perez