The Art of Seduction in South Beach

In Miami’s South Beach, Washington Avenue offers a rag-tag, multi-culti alternative to chic Collins Avenue and raucous Ocean Drive. While my Miami friends are at work, I discover the art of seduction while ducking out of the sunshine.

Strolling south from 12th Street, I pass the slumbering Mansion Nightclub, where I danced years ago when it was Club 1235, and then in the mid-90s when it was the Glam Slam, owned by Prince. Nearby, a pawn shop sells “pre-owned” Rolexes, probably fished from the sand beneath hung-over tourists.

I enter a lobby wallpapered in brocade. A slow-burn soul ballad sets the mood as an elevator takes visitors to scenes too risqué for any nightclub. Beholding the World Erotic Art Museum’s countless bodies in various states of undress, embrace and ecstasy can get intense. A man and woman strolling hand in hand draw closer and exchange sly smiles, while I, at times, fight to stifle audible gasps and look for a spot by an air-conditioning vent. I resist resting on the one artifact visitors are allowed to touch – a golden throne. Let’s just say its Zeus-scale backrest is erect, and goodness knows who has sat on those, uh, bolsters.

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This commissioned artwork offers an unusual place to sit at the World Erotic Art Museum; photo by Robin Tierney

World Erotic Art Museum

But WEAM’s not about porn, owner Naomi Wilzig insists. It’s fine art – the largest collection of its kind in America. Not that size matters, but about 4,000 objets d’amour steam up this space. A law prohibits visitors under 18, but Miss Naomi wants to change that. Isn’t this a more cultured setting for sex education than locker rooms and backseats?

Rembrandt etchings reveal the master’s voyeuristic bent, French ceramic dishes depict steamy romps, a pendulum clock simulates a burlesque fan-dance.

Antiquing evolved into sex-art collecting after her son asked Wilzig to look for bachelor-pad conversation pieces. Her new-found passion jammed her Orthodox Jewish home with decidedly unorthodox erotica. Amassing artifacts and scholarship in this esoteric field, she opened the museum. (Not a first for Wilzig’s family, by the way – her late husband helped found the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.)

WEAM’s collection spans centuries, countries and cultures, with every imaginable and unimaginable expression of love and lust across all forms of media. Circa-300 B.C. terracotta friezes commemorate mythic orgies, Rembrandt etchings reveal the master’s voyeuristic bent, French ceramic dishes depict steamy romps, a pendulum clock simulates a burlesque fan-dance. A 19th century cigar-cutter, with blades drawn together, displays a couple’s sexual congress. Music-playing nut grinders, snuffboxes and other functional items shelter naughty bits in secret compartments and false bottoms. (Surprise, a flashing monk!)

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Ancient scrolls reveal Tantric vignettes; pop artifacts include the shocking rocking-phallus prop from the 1971 film A Clockwork Orange and a bored Disney illustrator’s sketches of Snow White getting nasty with the dwarfs. I take refuge in the pin-ups gallery, where comparably classy selections include Marilyn Monroe wrapped in a stunning crimson dress. Carvings on a massive, wooden four-poster bed frame depict Kama Sutra poses. It’s been roped off with a “Do not lie on bed” sign, explains Wilzig, to curb visitors’ deep-seated desire for phallic photo ops. It explains why she installed the golden phallus throne.

I don’t want to leave, especially after peeking at the dinner menu orchestrated by its young-gun locally-loved chef Carlos Torres, who looks and cooks as good as his name suggests.

In front of The Angler's and 660 Restaurant

In front of The Angler’s and 660 Restaurant

A short walk south, a sandwich board announcing “blackberry mojitos” points through a row of potted palm trees to 660 Restaurant, a Nuevo Latino cafe fronting the Angler’s hotel. Its 1930s Mediterranean Revival buildings sheltered avid fishermen like Ernest Hemingway, and then squatters until local entrepreneurs turned it into an urban mini-resort. They added terraces fringed with foliage, spiral staircases and a cabana-ringed pool. No wonder this independent boutique has shot to the top of TripAdvisor’s hotel listings. I don’t want to leave, especially after peeking at the dinner menu orchestrated by its young-gun locally-loved chef Carlos Torres, who looks and cooks as good as his name suggests.

While moving on to 660’s delicious signature Miami Mule cocktail, served in a copper cup, I notice how the Angler’s Resort’s revival has helped nudge this neighborhood back to life. DecoBikes gleam in the bikeshare dock by the palms, and workers paint storefronts across the street where, in the mid-80s, The Strand fed celebrities and models drawn to South Beach in the wake of Miami Vice and Bruce Weber’s Calvin Klein photo-shoots.

Here, the art of seduction has clearly taken hold.

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