By Larry Fine
NEW YORK - Sex has a new home in the city.
The porn shops and peep shows of Times Square may be gone but they will not be forgotten, courtesy of The Museum of Sex, an adults only institution dedicated to chronicling some of the most basic urges known to man and woman.
Four years in the conception, the high-brow museum among the low-rise office buildings on Fifth Avenue and 27th Street opens to the public on Saturday with its debut exhibition, "NYC Sex: How New York City Transformed Sex in America."
Part historical, part educational, part entertaining and certainly part titillating, the museum offers a journey through the sexual landscape of the city starting from the mid-19th century via photographs, posters, art, objects, documents, film and cartoons ranging from the benign to X-rated graphic.
Why a museum of sex? Executive director Daniel Gluck said the absence of one screamed out at him.
"It's not like it has been a lifelong dream to open a museum of sex. It just struck me," Gluck said at Wednesday's press preview. The gallery was in a state of virtual undress with only a third of the exhibition available for viewing.
"It's like if there was no Museum of Modern Art. I said, 'Why isn't there a museum of sex?' It's as important as that."
You must be at least 18 years old to plunk down the $17 admission price for the museum (http:/nycsex.museumofsex.com), which might become a dating destination with its closing time of 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturdays.
The museum takes itself, and its subject, seriously.
The curator, Grady Turner, was formerly director of exhibitions at The New York Historical Society, where his tenure included "Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America," among the museum's best-attended exhibitions.
The museum's Board of Historian Advisors numbers 14, most of whom are college academics.
"The surprising thing is that this is the first serious museum of sex to open in the United States," said Dr. June Reinisch, former director of The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University and a senior advisor to the museum.
"It says a lot about America. America is still conservative sexually.
"You see them in Hamburg, Copenhagen, Paris, Amsterdam, in Spain. Japan has one, even Shanghai has one."
The exhibit builds from the exuberance of post-Civil War times to law enforcement attempts to clamp down on abortion and gay lifestyles around the turn of the century.
Graphic stag films, one predating 1920, show sex acts and full nudity on a wall across from a sophisticated display of so-called "Tijuana Bibles" -- sexually explicit comic books, some drawn by noted cartoonists for fun and profit depicting movie stars and public figures engaged in lewd acts.
Those displays reside in the Flesh and Smut sections. Other sections are named Bizarre, Gear, Changing Sex, Beefcake, Cheesecake, Butch/Femmes, Homoerotics and Marketing Kink.
PROGRESSIVELY MORE GRAPHIC
Gluck, who holds an arts degree from The Graduate School of Fine Arts at The University of Pennsylvania and a business degree from The Wharton School at the university, said sections of the exhibition not displayed on Wednesday get progressively more graphic.
"Some of the historical displays are very straight," he acknowledged about the tame nature at the very start.
"The '60's and '70s were the golden era of porn," he said of the sections still to come. "We're not trying to titillate, but we show bits of "Deep Throat," for instance, which started porn chic and is one of the best selling films ever."
Gluck said the goal was to educate and entertain. "We're riding that line," he said. "We have the kind of subject we can easily push on either side of that line."
Turner said there were interactive sections not yet on display, including what he considered a compelling look at a police raid on a gay bathhouse in 1903.
The curator said undercover police in the bathhouse pointed out those who had engaged in sex to the uniformed officers that conducted the raid.
The undercover cops gave recorded testimony, awkward in their accounts and somewhat humorous to the modern-day ear, which gallery goers can read or hear read aloud.
"It is kind of funny to hear," said Turner. "But chilling to know that 26 men were charged with sodomy and one man was sentenced to 20 years for sodomy involving consensual sex."
A portion of ticket proceeds from NYC Sex will benefit ACRIA (The AIDS Community Research Initiative of America), The Kinsey Institute and The Lesbian Herstory Archives