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Harry Mohney’s Erotic Heritage Museum: the classiest place in the neighborhood.

Las Vegas- Richard Abowitz of www. vegasblog.latimes.com/vegas writes: It seemed only a matter of time before Las Vegas got a sex museum. The only surprise: it beat the mob museum by opening first. Still, there is a big difference between marketing sex and being interested in erotica and sexuality. Male tourists coming to the area of town where they can buy lap dances are not necessarily the crowd that wants to debate the ideas of Camille Paglia.

But the opportunity now exists.

Harry Mohney’s Erotic Heritage Museum turns out to be by far the classiest place in the neighborhood. That is because the Erotic Heritage Museum is on Industrial, the road behind the Strip known for offering clubs where “strip” is a verb.

In fact, the club shares a parking lot with Deja Vu, part of a chain of clubs founded by Harry Mohney. Name sound familiar? Mohney declined to be interviewed for this story. In the literature for the Erotic Heritage Museum, Mohney is referred to as a “Grand Patron” and as “America’s leading Erotoligist.”

I could not find that word in a regular dictionary but a slang dictionary claims an “Erotoligist” is an expert in pornography.

Actually, I am surprised and pleased to report, there is nothing cheesy about Harry Mohney’s Erotic Heritage Museum. Not withstanding skin club mogul Mohney’s involvement, the museum is run by a nonprofit, The Exodus Trust, which controls warehouses full of erotic artifacts, according to Laura Henkel, who runs the museum on a daily basis.

Sex as portrayed at the museum has a glorious history of graphic artistic expressions. There is also a history of functional erotica that required great imagination. The subjects examined, no matter how cringe-worthy to some, are treated with utmost seriousness by the Erotic Heritage Museum. The creators of the Erotic Heritage Museum believe strongly this topic deserves to be treated as having great cultural significance. The museum attempts to cover all views of sexuality from around the world and, as a result, seems to posit that a society can be understood through its porn. And most societies at root have developed some form of adult entertainment, according to Henkel.

One example: The museum has a carriage with poles to be carried by bearers to construction sites in the ancient Muslim world. Once there the construction workers would gather around and pay to look in the carriage holes at scantily clad or naked women placed in the plush material. In short: another culture’s peepshow.

Henkel says there has so far been virtually no overlap between the museum crowd and the strip club crowd across the parking lot. A short tour of the 24,000-square-foot museum makes the reason obvious: the exhibits are not meant for cheap thrills. There is high-end erotic art, displays of fetish equipment complete with strapped-in mannequins, gay expression, historical artifacts like porn films from the silent era, and such oddities as plaster casts of body parts of well-known performers in adult movies. There is even a camera used to shoot early adult movies.

The overall impact is thoughtful to the point of being academic. Henkel does not dispute that: “This museum is artistic and sexy but there is primarily an educational and academic component. This museum in particular is about educating people to the erotic arts and embracing them as our heritage. This is a celebration of that heritage. We are set for lectures and film festivals. The whole purpose of this establishment is to educate.”

The museum aims high but its messages sometimes lack subtlety. There are walls of heroes and villains and advocacy against legislating sexuality. That there are good guys and bad guys seems to be a message running through the exhibit, sometimes implicitly but often explicitly, as with a timeline of important dates focused on court obscenity trials that presents these cases as the good guys against the prudes.

Actually, given the controversial topic and graphic displays, Henkel was a little surprised if not a tad disappointed that the museum had drawn no protesters. There had been initial worries, and other cities with such museums have had protests. But Las Vegas isn’t like other cities. Nothing gets protested here for being too graphic; things get ignored. John Stagliano’s Fashionistas is the classic example; the erotic show was a critics’ darling and he worried at first that the show would be too envelope-pushing; in the end, he lost millions trying to sell seats to something too aesthetically demanding for a Vegas audience.

It isn’t that Vegas audiences are not sophisticated. It is that, without fail, a Vegas audience is already experiencing sensory overload and may have spent the day gambling, traveling, shopping, eating a fine meal with drinks and after all that go to your show while still planning, after the show, to head to a nightclub. This is not an environment that encourages contemplation, even about sex.

At Deja Vu, across the parking lot, it is business as normal, and that involves a lot more customers than are at the Erotic Heritage Museum. While I was at the museum, the staff outnumbered the customers. When Buffet photographer Sarah Gerke returned to photograph the museum a couple days later she reported seeing only two or three customers.

And, that, I predict will be the biggest challenge this museum has: getting customers to come be educated and think about sex when they can spend $30 for a lap dance next door, no thought required.

I asked Henkel if she worries at all that the Erotic Heritage Museum has overshot the market and that her sophisticated presentation of sexuality may be more than tourists in Sin City are ready to spend learning about erotica beyond the experience of a lap dance? “Maybe. Yes, that is a worry. Las Vegas has turned out to be a very primitive place in some ways regarding sexuality. But I think over time people will understand what we are offering is very different (from a lap dance) and valuable.” (photo by Sarah Gerke).

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