What artists have known and celebrated all along—that we are sexual creatures with myriad desires—only became fleshed out in the social sciences with the groundbreaking work of sexologist Alfred Kinsey. In fact, Kinsey collected photography (among many other sex relics) and was slated to produce a book on art before his death in 1956. His interest in art as an expression of human sexuality continues today in the art collection at the Kinsey Institute.

The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction houses the collection at Indiana University in Bloomington. Since it’s just a four-hour drive from Chicago, the Kinsey Institute has exhibited and collected many Chicago-based artists. Curator Catherine Johnson-Roehr says the art collection was primarily limited access in the early years, intended only for scholars of erotica and other researchers. But, she says, 1997 was “a coming-out year” for the collection and its gallery. By 2006 they began hosting juried competitions, with many Chicago artists competing for top prize and acquisition by the famed institute.

“Traditionally, erotic art has been small scale,” says Johnson-Roehr. A small pornographic drawing had to be hid away, kept in a drawer, pocket, or closet. “Now artists are braver,” says Johnson-Roehr. “You can exhibit explicit art without the world collapsing.”

But this is not the tourist-driven sex museum you’d find in a European red-light district. Located on the campus of a research university, the gallery at the Kinsey Institute aims to be a scholastic resource about the body, gender, reproduction, and desire. Still, “It’s a fun collection to work with,” says Johnson-Roehr.

The Kinsey Institute is now accepting submissions (through February 16) for its annual juried exhibition. Click here for info.