Art Pottery, Politics and Food
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
Taboo Art

Keisai Eisen, 1790-1848

Desire of Spring: Erotic Fantasies in Edo Japan, the world’s first chronological overview of 200-year old Japanese erotic woodblock prints, opened January 22 at the Kunsthal (Art hall) Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
Called Shunga (spring pictures), the images, forerunners of today’s erotic Manga comics, depict couples, often with exaggerated genitalia, engaged in a particularly ancient human activity still practiced to this day.
No matter this particular activities’ omnipresence in today’s porn-drenched world, these exquisite images of 17th and 18th century Japan remain taboo within Japan and the non-Dutch rest of the world.
Kunsthal Rotterdam director Wim Pijbes told The Art Newspaper:

“It would be unthinkable to present Shunga in a Japanese museum, because pubic hair is out of the question…I can’t think of any major American museum putting it on.”

London’s Independent quotes Ofer Shagan, an art dealer who claims to own the largest private collection of Shunga in the world:

“The paradoxes in Shunga art in Japan are great…if I want to take pieces out of Japan I have to fill out forms and it will take over a year to get them out because the authorities consider it a national treasure. But if I try to import from London I can't because it is pornographic."

Chokyosai Eiri, 1801

The Independent also quotes David Caplan from the Mita art gallery in Tokyo, a city where modern pornography can be purchased in convenience stores:

“We've had shipments stopped by Tokyo customs. They used to have young people who blacked out the genitals with pens.”

The Art Newspaper reports the Musée Guimet in Paris had considered joining the Kunsthal as a partner” for this risqué offering but eventually decided to exhibit nonsexual Japanese prints in a show that closed this past January.
The Kunsthal’s webpage says:

Desire of Spring emphasizes three elements typical of Shunga: eroticism, aesthetics and humor. The quality of the more than 200 selected works is exceptionally high. Several of the pieces have never been exhibited in public before.

The webpage also says the exhibition is being accompanied by an illustrated English-language catalog which can be purchased for EUR 49.50 during the exhibition and EUR 68.50 afterwards.

Images: Kunsthal Rotterdam, The Art Newspaper

Well done on a nice blog Blogger. I was looking for information on erotic art and came across your post this post - not quite what I was looking for related to erotic art but interesting all the same!
Thanks...The Kunsthal may still have copies of the exhibit's English language companion book. The book was beautifully crafted and contains hundreds of color plates of never-before-seen images of Japanese life 2 centuries past.
I would also imagine the book will prove to have considerable collector value as time passes.
I also found Gary P. Leupp's Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan very informative.
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