Opened in 1997 in the heart of Paris’s Pigalle district by Jo Khalifa and Alain Plumey, the Museum of Eroticism has sadly just closed after the owner of the building refused to renew its lease. Every year the museum attracted tens of thousands of visitors intrigued by its explicit sculptures from India, Mexico, Indonesia, Africa, by dwarves from the Garden of Delights, by divine Nepalese vulvas, by fine Japanese prints, by Vietnamese lingams… and all sorts of more or less intimate photographs.
On Sunday 6 November 2016, Cornette de Saint Cyr organised an auction sale of the museum’s contents — a veritable Alibaba’s cave of erotic artefacts — with hundreds of erotic pieces finding new owners. In all, the sale generated €450,000 (three times its estimated pre-sale turnover) with few pieces remaining unsold and lots of works and objects selling for no more than a few dozen euros. Some pieces fetched exceptionally high prices compared with their initial estimates.
Amidst the assorted curiosities and the works by extravagant outsider artists, there were a number of works by artists who are absent from — or extremely rare on — the auction market, including some well-known signatures. Some of these “minor works” were particularly affordable, including a hair-tip work by Leonor FINI (1907-1996) that sold for $180 and two sets of twin lithographs by André MASSON (1896-1987) ($1,700) and Allen JONES (1937) ($500). The highlight of the sale was Salvador DALI’s Young Virgin Auto-sodomised By The Horns Of Her Own Chastity, a bronze bas-relief (II / VIII.A) which fetched $23,000 against an estimate of $3,000.
This lengthy sale — open to any erotic art lover that fancied his (or her) chances — generated a couple of unexpected auction records, including one for Georges WOLINSKI (1934-2015) and another for Alex VARENNE (1939)… and in both cases the hammer price was around ten times the pre-sale estimate. Georges Wolinski’s drawing, Chérie, le musée de l’érotisme va fermer, il est temps de songer à partir… (Darling, the Museum of Eroticism is closing… it’s time we thought about leaving)… was bid up to approximately $13,000. Another drawing by the same artist, Attends-moi ici et sois sage (Wait for me here and be good) went for $6,000. These two results beat his last record set in 2013 for a work in color titled Hommage à Matisse which fetched just over $4,600 at Artcurial. Alex Varenne, creator of French erotic comics, obtained his new auction record with Mona Lisa’s breasts which sold for $11,700.
There was even a new record among the very affordable works when an untitled photograph by photographer Alexandre DUPOUY (born 1955) fetched $860.
Sales of erotic art always do well, especially in France. Recall the extraordinary sale dedicated to the particularly lubricious Pierre MOLINIER (1900-1976): to celebrate the artist’s birth date (Friday 13 April 1900) Artcurial organized a sale of his work in Paris on Friday 13 November 2015 entitled Forbidden sale. The 119 works from a collection belonging to his muse Emmanuelle Arsan generated more than €400,000 and a new record: a superb photomontage titled Le chamanstarted at €4,000 and finished at €22,100 (nearly $26,000). More recently, in June 2016, the French sales company Millon et Associés generated nearly €600,000 from the sale of 25 watercolors that literally undress Brigitte Bardot by the Italian master of erotic comics, Milo MANARA.
However, the Paris market for erotic art is not confined to its auction rooms. There is also the Erotic Art Fair “SALO” whose fifth edition is planned for next April. In these cold and dangerous times, the fair’s curator, Laurent Quenehen, issued the following message “by focusing on eroticism in art — a light-hearted project — we evoke life in society. Remembering Sade imprisoned, Pasolini murdered and all those who have challenged castrating majority attitudes, we can say that the freedom to create, to love, and eroticism are powerful and indestructible life forces.”