The Italian Almanac

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Italian Brothels on Show

Gallery-goers in Milan will be able to experience the sensation of entering a legal Italian brothel for the first time in 50 years thanks to a new exhibition opening in the city. The risque' show at the Crazy Art gallery includes the faithful reconstruction of both a lower-class and a high-end brothel, with original furnishings and decorations including lists of prices for the various services offered by girls hung on the walls.

''We decided to hold this exhibition for the 50th anniversary of the Merlin Law,'' said curator Giancarlo Ramponi, referring to the law named after its sponsor, the late Socialist senator Angelina Merlin, which officially closed down Italy's brothels in 1958. ''We held a similar show around 25 years ago, but it was rather basic. Since then we have amassed many other objects and the exhibition is more complete''.

Among the dimly lit objects on show are a collection of drawers, stockings and corsets, an erotic kneeling stool and a mechanical red lamp containing the models of five small ballerinas who danced when all the brothel's rooms were occupied. There are also original 'catalogues' showing pictures of the girls, from which clients used to pick their favourite. One of the rarest brothel artefacts on display is a 'ciuladura', a special type of armchair for elderly clients, Ramponi said. The reproduction waiting room of the lower-class brothel includes an original spitoon accompanied by a notice explaining that it is forbidden for clients to spit on the floor. There is also a reconstruction of a so-called voyeur's room, where clients could pay to watch the prostitutes at work from behind a secret mirror.

The show, entitled 'Mi piace un casino' (a play on words meaning both 'I like a brothel' and, in modern slang, I like it a lot') runs at the Crazy Art Gallery from September 18 to December 31.