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For Private Eyes Only: Selected Artwork from the Kinsey Institute

The Kinsey Institute in Bloomington, Indiana contains an archive of objects and ephemera related to Alfred Kinsey’s pioneering studies of human sexuality. Sixteen pieces from the Institute are now on view at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art in Chicago through October 2 as the exhibition Private Eyes: Selected Artworks from the Kinsey Institute.

Rebecca Fasman, the Art Collection Consultant at the Kinsey Institute, discussed the exhibition and how this small but mighty showcase of the erotic and highly-charged came together. “The Private Eyes exhibition was first curated by Betsy Stirratt, Blaise Cronin, and Garry Milius in 2010,” she explained. “For this version, I knew there were space limitations, so it was a matter of paring the show down to 16 pieces that were diverse enough to represent the exhibition and that part of our collection well.”

Anonymous, "Jazz Partners," Ink and Watercolor on Paper, Mid-20th Century. Photo courtesy of Carrie McGath

Anonymous, “Jazz Partners,” Ink and Watercolor on Paper, Mid-20th Century. Photo courtesy of Carrie McGath

Situated in a private alcove in the back of Intuit, the voyeuristic feel is heightened as visitors coyly turn the corner and stare into the fantasies of others. The title of the show, Private Eyes, builds on this notion of the private colliding with the public, turning observers into peeping toms. Much of the work in the Kinsey Institute’s collection and in these 16 pieces on view, documents activities that would have been too risqué and even illegal when they were created, forcing these works into private, secret spaces.

As would be expected, a lot of the work is homemade (think: home crafting) and a couple of these examples are on display in a vitrine in the Intuit show. A burgundy and yellow crocheted penis and testicles cozy sits next to Jerkie Boy, a masturbating figure made of pipe cleaners and positioned within a cigarette box. When a string at the back of the box is pulled, he strokes himself all while grinning sheepishly. According to Fasman, the homemade works were made with a very small audience in mind (if any) and were never intended to be on public display.

Various objects. Photo by Carrie McGath

Various objects. Photo by Carrie McGath

“As with many pieces that would have been considered too risqué or even illegal in the 1940s and 1950s, these works would not have been seen in public, even if they’d been created by well-known artists of the day.”

A Guide to the Administration of the Cane is a highlight of the show. At first glance, the image appears to be a disarmingly simplistic pencil drawing of a woman’s form. Upon closer examination though, it is a diagram to illustrate, in essence, how to administer a spanking. Her buttocks display the areas of “maximum effectiveness”; “area of most acute pain”; and “area of minimum effectiveness.”

Anonymous, "Woman with Corset," Ink on Paper, Photo by Carrie McGath. Private Eyes

Anonymous, “Woman with Corset,” Ink on Paper, Photo by Carrie McGath.

Each work is labelled Anonymous, so the names of the creator are not known and, as Fasman said, even a famous artist of the era would not have intended these for public consumption. Each work has great erotic flare, drama, and excellent technique. Woman in Corset depicts a woman from behind wearing black stockings, panty-less, and curvy, tightening her corset has an effortless and understated raunchiness. Many of these works were created by an array of individuals and navigated to the Kinsey Institute in a myriad of ways, including from collectors and donors.

“In the mid-20th century, Alfred Kinsey realized that art and literature and ephemera were critically important to understanding the range of sexual expression and how sex, gender, and the body were represented across cultures and time,” Fasman explained. “Besides procuring library and art materials from collectors and donors, he developed relationships with law enforcement and prisons in hopes that confiscated items considered illegal at the time would not be destroyed, but instead sent to the institute for safe-keeping and for future scholars to study and interpret.”

Anonymous, "Man Cross Dressing,"  Graphite and Colored Pencil on Paper, Mid 20th Century, Courtesy of the Kinsey Institute .

Anonymous, “Man Cross Dressing,” Graphite and Colored Pencil on Paper, Mid 20th Century, Courtesy of the Kinsey Institute .

The illustration, Man Cross Dressing, depicts three moments in the progression of crossdressing from left to right. The first illustration is a man in a bra, panties, thigh-high nylons, and heels. The second shows items with the addition of a wig and muted color is added. The final illustration shows the fully-dressed version with the figure now wearing a gown with a corseted top and a bell-shaped skirt. Gloves to the elbow are added as well, along with the wig now styled into an elegant up do. The first two show the figure holding a mirror while the third does not hold a mirror and poses with an air of confidence to signify his comfort and completion in his transformation.

Anonymous, "Man Cross Dressing" (detail),  Graphite and Colored Pencil on Paper, Mid 20th Century, Courtesy of the Kinsey Institute .

Anonymous, “Man Cross Dressing” (detail), Graphite and Colored Pencil on Paper, Mid 20th Century, Courtesy of the Kinsey Institute .

Fasman stated that the Institute has exhibited the collection thematically since the mid-1980s, mostly in their galleries but also at the Grunwald Gallery of Art at the Indiana University campus and museums around the world. The exhibiting of the collection furthers the mission of the Kinsey Institute. “The mission of the Kinsey Institute is to foster and promote a greater understanding of human sexuality and relationships through impactful research, outreach, education, and historical preservation. Our entire exhibitions program, past, present, and future, fits into this mission by providing context for works in our collection, and for the collection itself.”

Private Eyes has seen success with a well-attended opening. Some of the works are decidedly graphic while others are understated, artful, and elegant documents of sexuality. Despite the small size of the show, there is so much to look at and consider, which is exactly what Alfred Kinsey would have suggested.