On 24 March 2011, we open the doors to Lust & Vice, a major exhibition filling three rooms and five display cases. Over 200 works from the 16th century to the present day, mostly little-known treasures from the museum’s own collection, will illustrate how views of sexuality, virtue and morality have changed over the centuries.
The exhibition presents examples of how virtue and sin have been depicted in art through the ages. One of the display cases examines how girls were brought up to lead a virtuous life in order to be good marriage material. Exhibits include a real chastity belt on loan from Nordiska museet. One wall in the first room displays paintings of women’s bottoms – an erotic reference that was long considered sinful because sex, besides taking place inside marriage, required eye contact in order to be morally acceptable. Artists managed to paint erotic motifs by portraying myths or biblical scenes, often with moralistic undertones alluding to the consequences of a sinful lifestyle.
The older material from the museum’s own collection clearly shows that the erotic images were created with a male audience in mind. The contemporary works on loan for the exhibition, by artists such as Kristina Jansson, Gisela Schink and Lars Nilsson, question the ownership of the perspective. Much of the material on show was intended for a very small audience but is now in the public domain as part of a museum collection. Erotically charged paintings from the early 18th century often hung in men’s private quarters.
As long ago as the mid-19th century, museum staff struggled with the issue of displaying erotic or sexually suggestive art. We can see how some 19th-century museums took a thoroughly moralistic approach, for instance by commissioning special fig leaves to hide the genitals of antique sculptures. In this exhibit, it is for the visitors to decide: what is lust and what is vice? What is virtue and sin today?
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