MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
Vicki Barker went to have a look.
VICKI BARKER: Thirteen-dollar cocktails, oysters and souvenir condoms - not your standard merchandise in London's museum gift shops. But it's late-night opening at the Barbican's "Seduced" exhibition. How better to prepare a crowd of English people who haven't been formally introduced for two entire floors of visual and auditory art devoted to the act of sexual union before, after and, most graphically and emphatically, during.
(SOUNDBITE OF COCKTAIL MIXING)
BARKER: Unidentified Woman: ...cheeks flowing with a florid red.
(SOUNDBITE OF AUDITORY VISUAL)
BARKER: The Oxford University art historian Martin Kemp is one of the curators.
MARTIN KEMP: As soon as you have a private act, which is take analysis at where the bedroom or wherever you happen to do it, and you are sharing it, at least visually with other people, then yes, it becomes a self-conscious business. And that is not the rationale for the exhibition, but it's unashamedly part of it.
BARKER: Sixty-something Simon(ph) - people here prefer not to provide surnames - stares solemnly at an 18th century oil, Francois Boucher's explicit swan's eye view of a sprawled and complicit Leda.
SIMON: It's amazing how they carefully hid pornography under the eyes of pornography - a terrible word - and how they carefully hid titillation under the guise of grand masters.
BARKER: Nineteen-year-old Samantha(ph) is blase about video artist Chris Cunningham's strobe-lit naked bodies and Robert Mapplethorpe's pseudo- masochistic images. But those ancient contorting Chinese couples, those pornographic postcards from the dawn of photography itself - it is the old which is new to her.
SAMANTHA: I'm quite surprised that all of it takes quite (unintelligible) more modern in my head. But I'm lucky. I'm enjoying the whole thing.
BARKER: Joanne Bernstein is another curator of "Seduced."
JOANNE BERNSTEIN: We have deliberately wanted to exclude images that could any way be exploitative, images that do not show consensual sex. And because of that, perhaps, that's why there haven't been any kind of adverse reactions.
BARKER: Curator Martin Kemp says this exhibition has helped him better plumb the line between art and pornography.
KEMP: Now with art, you don't have that simple definition. It's a much more multi- layered complicated experience.
BARKER: For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London.
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