It was all erections, orgasms and semen at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston on Wednesday night as sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer joined museum director Gary Tinterow for a candid exploration of eroticism in art.
"It is a very sexy swan," Westheimer said with a straight face while examining a slide of Peter Paul Rubens' Leda and the Swan — the famed mythological scene in which Zeus seduces a Greek princess while taking the shape of a long-necked bird.
Dr. Ruth remains as keen at spotting innuendo as any 15-year-old high schooler.
"I don't want anyone to have to go to bed with a swan, but I can see how the neck could be seen by women as being a sexual image," Dr. Ruth laughed, drawing a round of applause from the packed house inside the Brown Auditorium.
At 85 years of age — she celebrated her birthday Wednesday in Houston — the celebrated psychologist remains as keen at spotting innuendo as any 15-year-old high schooler, a quality that makes her the perfect foil to Tinterow's casually academic approach as a trained art historian.
The result is a sort of good-cop-bad-cop routine that unlocks a fresh perspective on works by some of the world's most revered painters. When the two were introduced in the 1990s, Westheimer found that their chemistry worked so well, that she asked Tinterow to help her compile a now out-of-print book titled The Art of Arousal: A Celebration of Erotic Art throughout History.
During the talk, the unlikely pair of critics analyzed everything from pointedly sexualized paintings like Klimt's The Kiss and Manet's Olympia to less obvious selections like William Wegman's Lolita (yep, it's a sexy dog picture).
After the lively discussion and just before a brief Q&A session, Houston City Council member Melissa Noriega surprised Dr. Ruth with a special gift from Mayor Annise Parker — a Westheimer street sign and a framed proclamation renaming the busy thoroughfare "Dr. Ruth Westheimer Road" until the end of the day.
Be sure to keep an eye on Tinerow's continuing "Conversations with the Director" series, which brings celebrities to the MFAH for a one-night public chats at the Brown Auditorium.