April in Paris – Pigalle and the Picaresque

Probably April has never been the best month to visit Paris. It is not too warm, and the wind blows, and there is a sense of a city coming out of hibernation. A few years on from my first visit, I approached the Museum of Erotica in the Pigalle, slaloming around the street girls in their leopard skin tights and mobile phones, the men adopting that bored but crafty-eyed observation of passing human traffic, the sex boutiques and the seamier arenas of below-the-belt entertainment.

The museum, itself, has not changed too much since my last visit but now includes more video and some early simple line-drawn animations. From the ground floor to the sixth there are displays of artefacts which encompass every possible take on sex. At the top is the latest in Manga-type extremism. At the bottom are the primitive, the ancient, the puzzling and the ambiguous. In effect, as one ascends, there is a gradual transmutation from non-pejorative, matter of fact depictions of genitalia and sexual practices, through Freudian uncertainty, fetishism and the commodification of sexual parts and related instruments of pleasure and pain, to a point where the human essence of the body is totally eradicated. And explicit representation is all. Unlike the Barbican Seduction exhibition, which I blogged earlier this year, there is a closeness, a tangible intimacy in the exhibition which can draw or repel. Here the body is loved and hated, lampooned and degraded, there it is transported to the divine and exalted. The lack of any aesthetic treatise in integrating the objects within some evolutionary (or revolutionary) theory of sexuality, is a plus. You make of it what you will.

At the end of the visit I felt curiously sober and contemplative. The museum would soon be including examples of the replicants discussed in the blog before this one. The historical sweep of the exhibits provides stark evidence that humanity could be slowly breaking its sensory bonds with the exhilarating joy of being sexually alive, as it loses touch with the primary sensuality of its skin, flesh and bone and consigns the body to the domination of market forces.

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