Sex MuseumsThe Politics and Performance of Display

Sex MuseumsThe Politics and Performance of Display

Jennifer Tyburczy

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780226315102

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


Sex Museums is the first book to comprehensively explore what happens when museums display sex. It demonstrates how museum debates about what sex is and how to manage it have been integral to defining the parameters of sexual normalcy and for silencing non-normative voices as they relate to gender, race, and sexuality. The book traces a genealogy of museum exhibitions to examine the influence of display on the history of sexuality and to explore four interrelated themes. First, it treats the museum context (of the nineteenth- through the twenty-first centuries) as a highly influential site in the construction of modern sexual subjectivity and the categories of “normalcy” and “perversity.” Second, it analyzes a group of present-day museums, called sex museums, as explicit spaces that combine pedagogy and public entertainment to redefine what “sex” means. Third, it examines the successes and failures of sex museums and describes the pleasures and dangers associated with exhibiting dissident sexualities. Fourth, it proposes the seemingly paradoxical assertion that all museums are already sex museums, even as a diverse array of sexualities have been historically marginalized from the museum’s visual field. Sex Museums therefore illuminates the heteronormativity (and in some instances, the homonormativity) of most museums and proposes alternative approaches for the future of public sexual display projects (what the author calls “queer praxis”). Thus, the book develops theoretical innovations in queer, gender, critical race, performance, and museum studies with practical applications for collection, curatorship, policy management, and visitor services in museums.