We decided that if we were not going to learn about drugs while in Amsterdam, then at very least we should learn about sex! But let me put off describing the Sex Museum until the end of this blog, in order to give any prudish people who might take offense a chance to stop reading before getting to that part! Instead I will talk about the Florescent Light Museum next, which probably ties in better with the Marijuana Museum anyways.
Electric Lady, touted as the “First Museum of Fluorescent Art”, we envisioned large, flashy neon signs like the El Mocambo sign in Toronto, or ones that you find in Vegas. Accordingly, we were looking for a large building that could store these works. Imagine our surprise when we arrived at a tiny little house covered in plants and flowers that contained an art gallery on the top floor and a small museum in the basement. The shop/museum is run by a greying, long-haired hippie named Nick Padalino, who looked like he spent some time at Woodstock and had just come back from an Ashram. I quite expected him to offer us a joint before the visit was through. Looking at the gallery, we got a better sense of what he meant by “Fluorescent Art”, which including paintings and sculptures covered with vibrant, glowing paint.
Then it was quite the rigmarole preparing to visit the museum. Our host explained that we were about to enter a large room-sized "Fluorescent Environment" that we could experience and “become part of the art”. But first we had to take precautions in order not to damage the art, which included painted floors that we could walk on and surfaces that we could touch. Huge signs in bright red letters warned us that we should not be wearing sunscreen on our hands or anything that might come in contact with the art surfaces, since the UV in the sunscreen would damage the paint. We also had to take off our shoes and put on little sock slippers in order to protect the floors. Finally, we had to gingerly navigate down the steepest set of stairs to reach the museum, being careful not to bang our heads on the “No Suntan Lotion” sign while I struggled to keep my feet in the socks that were way too big for me.
Cheese Museum made our list of places to visit because of three factors–We were passing right by the area, it was free, and we got to taste cheese. Is it too groan-inducing to say that the Cheese Museum was rather “cheesy” (pun intended)? It was quite a small display in the basement below the cheese shop, but there was an old 19th century cheese press, a giant weighing scale, and an udder milking contraption. Plaques that described the history of cheese and the cheese making process.
Cheese is made using pasteurized (heated) or unpasteurized milk that is turned to solid by adding rennet, causing the milk to curdle. The mixture is then cut to separate the curds from the whey (excess liquid). The curds are pressed in a cheese mold, then soaked in salt water. The cheese is then left to age for a minimum of 4 weeks. Based on the photographs, in the past before automation, cheese making was a woman's job and done by hand.
OK, it’s finally time to talk about the Sex Museum (Venustempel), so here is your last chance to bail … proceed at your own risk! As you can imagine, the Sex Museum features 4 floors full of innumerable images of breasts, male and female genitalia, and depictions in paintings, drawings and sculptures of couples copulating in every way imaginable. But it isn’t all just about showing smut and porn and sensationalism. Beneath the veneer of titillation lies some thoughtful information about how sex was portrayed through the years and from the perspective of different ethnic cultures.
My favourite part of the museum was actually the toilet area. The toilets, urinals and sinks were all shaped like female sex organs including a flowering labia. But the best part was the mirror which acted like a normal reflective surface until you turned on the water in the sink. This triggered a little short animation to appear on the mirror showing a woman sitting in a garden dressed in a long robe with flowers in her hair. A man approaches and she rises to meet him, dropping her robe to expose her naked body, before walking off with him hand in hand.
There were so many artifacts to look at that what I have described is just the tip of the iceberg (lewd imagery intended). After leaving the Sex Museum, I’m not sure if it was just the power of suggestion but suddenly everything we looked suspiciously like sexual organs! Sex is such a mainstream thing in Amsterdam that there are sex toys and paraphernalia available for sale in the local tourist shops next to the t-shirts, tulips and Dutch clog slippers. I liked the Willy Warmer and the Pecker Bowling Pins and had to stop Rich from buying the copulating bears to add to our collection of salt and pepper shakers.
I wish we could have experienced more quirky museums but we wanted to devote some time to the serious museums within Amsterdam as well. More about that in the next blog.