“There was a penis museum in Iceland. Which is pretty cool,” the Vagina Museum website states, “But there was no vagina equivalent anywhere in the world. We were pretty miffed (muffed?) when we learnt this but we thought, there’s only one way to rectify this. Make one.”
Inspired though the founders may have been, The Art Newspaper’s Tom Seymour reported that the Vagina Museum, located at 18 Victoria Park Square in Bethnal Green, London, closed on February 1, 2023.
The museum has been at this most recent location since March 2022, when it was forced to move from a Camden Market space it held since 2019 when their lease was not renewed. Real estate has posed a continuous problem, as the current space is challenged by its “property guardianship arrangement,” in which the museum pays below market value rent on a vacant premises based on government authorization.
The concept was very popular from its inception in 2017, when a number of locations such as the Royal Institution, the Feminist Library and the Freud Museum also lent their space the Vagina Museum temporarily.
But despite the fact that the Vagina Museum has received a reported 40,000 visitors to its Bethnal Green location, it seems the rousing and educational vagina showcases have yet to find a permanent home.
Prior to the March 2022 Bethnal Green space, the Vagina Museum had an affiliated podcast with such titles as “Hair and Back Again: A Pube’s Tale,” “On Eating Your Placenta,” and “The Myth of the Victorian Vibrator,” but the content appears to have tapered in December.
Although arguably humorous content dots their repertoire, the museum has always clearly been intended as an educational safe space to break taboos. In this sense, it is unprecedented, as many modern art and sex museums address genitalia through other more socially palatable lenses…such as the male gaze in Old Master nude portraiture, or the admiration and pleasure of the entire female form at the at the Museum of Sex in New York. Thus, by focusing on the vagina as an organ rather than a tool for other intentions, the museum broke these barriers and challenged these efforts by the mainstream. As their website states, a major goal is to “Erase the stigma around the body and gynaecological anatomy.”
In the meantime, the steady drip of content has proved the masterminds behind it are optimistic the Vagina Museum will come back again. They set up a donation portal where, “a gift of any size means the world.”
The ‘penis museum in Iceland’ referred to in the Vagina Museum’s initial mission statement is actually called the Icelandic Phallological Museum in Reykjavik (website: phallus.is). There, “hundreds of phallic specimens” remain on display. The phallus in particular has been revered throughout art history (notably in Ancient Roman times), and the Icelandic museum carries forth this tradition with gusto. Various mammal species’ penises in addition to the human form are studied and displayed.
Despite the Vagina Museum’s closure in England, the Icelandic penis museum remains open.
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