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Assets: Erotica, Moving Mainstream, Stirs Art Market
Sat Feb 14, 2004 04:15 PM ET
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By Richard Chang

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Erotic art is stepping out of the closet into museums and galleries, as a growing mass of collectors are openly enjoying and willing to pay top dollar for the aesthetic and sensual thrills of previously forbidden fruit.

"There's a realization that art can be sexy and erotic and you can show it in your home. It's becoming more permissible," said Allena Gabosch, director of The Wet Spot, a not-for-profit group that organizes the annual Seattle Erotic Arts Festival ( "I find great pleasure in art that affects all of my senses."

More and more people seem to agree, judging from the festival's attendance, which doubled to 4,000 in its second annual show in the first weekend of February -- timed to usher in Valentine's Day. On display were 500 works priced from $40 to $10,000, by 187 artists from 10 countries.

Photo-realistic paintings of pin-up fantasy women by Hajime Sorayama ( sell for as much as $25,000, while those of Olivia De Berardinis ( go for up to $75,000.

"We're moving into a renaissance in that the number of artists producing erotica is growing," said Durk Dehner, director of the Tom of Finland Foundation in Los Angeles (

The nonprofit group was founded in 1984 to preserve and promote the work of homoerotic Finnish artist Touko Laaksonen, who signed his drawings "Tom of Finland" when he started submitting them to American muscle magazines in 1956. The group's mission now extends to erotic art of all persuasions.

It's a far cry from when "forbidden art" was hidden away or published only in the underground press. Tom's fantasy sketches, featuring incredibly well-endowed masculine gay men, are now on permanent display in museums in Portland, Oregon; Los Angeles; San Francisco; and Helsinki, Finland. Controversial gay photographer Robert Mapplethorpe has also become an icon.

With this change in status, a Tom of Finland sketch that cost $350 in 1978 now sells for $12,000, Dehner said. Even so, a 21-inch wide 1989 poster of his is available at the foundation's Web site for as low as $20.

"We're on the edge of where erotic works will probably start increasing at faster rates," Dehner said, noting they are now perceived as fine art. "If people can feel that something is held in high regard, they're more comfortable with it."

The difference between art and pornography is clear to "Miss Naomi," who has acquired 4,000 museum-quality works worth millions of dollars ( over 12 years.

"Pornography gives you one message -- Let's get it on, let's have sex," said the author of "Forbidden Art: The World of Erotica" and "Visions of Erotica" (Schiffer, "Erotic art engages you in a thoughtful process. It's an interpretation about it, the talent, the unusual or beautiful way the art is displayed."    Continued ...

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