Erotic Art From Japan

12 Oct 2016 - 29 Jan 2017

Exhibition view
Erotic Art From Japan
12 October 2016 – 29 January 2017

Guest curator: Diethard Leopold
Curator: Johannes Wieninger, Curator, MAK Permanent Collection Asia
Scientific consultant: Sepp Linhart

“Shun-ga,” spring pictures, have long been widespread in East Asia. They testify to a different attitude to sexuality and eroticism from our conditioning to such elements in Europe and are classified among the “ukiyo-e” pictures, pictures of the “floating world.” Almost all great ukiyo-e artists produced erotic pictures. Although forbidden by the government, they were sold unsigned under the counter and estimated to form up to fifty percent of ukiyo-e production.

It is only recently that art and social history has endeavoured to gain an overall view of the theme of the Japanese mass medium ukiyo-e. Western visitors to Japan of the late nineteenth century were surprised at the seemingly relaxed attitude to nakedness and sexuality. And the color woodblock prints in fact still convey this impression as well.

In Europe, sexuality since classical antiquity has been cloaked in heroic and religious connotations, very frequently concentrated on the nude female body. “The Painter and his Model” is the typical image of European erotic art. In contrast, from India to Japan the union of two human beings and a playful approach to sex is in central focus. Religion, philosophy, and medicine are often employed in them as metaphor. What always seems important is the consensus of the participants and the lack of violence, which is only rarely a subject of the genre. Added to this is frequently a touch of humour, supported by entertaining dialogue. The borders between erotic art and pornography might often be blurred. Thus for a long time the prints of Japanese art with erotic content did not find their way into the collections of Western museums. Until very recently, shunga was hardly to be encountered on the exhibition scene.

The erotic color woodblock prints shown in the MAK exhibition are loans from the Leopold Private Collection, supplemented by prints from the MAK collection and a further Viennese private collection.

The exhibition contains explicit erotic depictions that might be offensive to the moral sensibility of persons under 16 years of age.