Toward the end of 2015 the first ever exhibition in Japan of Japanese erotic art or ‘Shunga’ (literally ‘spring pictures’) was held in Tokyo’s Eisei Bunko Museum. Incredibly, during its three month run the show drew in over 200,000 visitors. From February 6th the Shunga exhibition moved to Kyoto’s Hosomi museum in Okazaki. I have seen the show a few times, walk past the museum daily and can attest that its popularity continues unabated. Possibly the first time the Hosomi museum has ever experienced queues.
The brilliant detailing and colouring of the images and the intimacy of the content encourage close and unhurried viewing. The interest level of the many visitors is quite amazing, there is a true sense of involvement and wonder. It is fair to say that it is something of an exercise in patience to take in the all of the works due to the large crowds. Avoid weekends if at all possible. The hour before closing is often the best idea.
The Hosomi museum has three mid-sized exhibition rooms. Don’t rush through the first room as it contains some of the more important and luxurious painted hand-scrolls. A scene from a rare Shunga hand-scroll by Tani Buncho (1763-1841) leaves me wanting to see more whilst a Momoyama/Edo work from the Hasegawa school is as unexpected as it is delightful. A Tsukioka Settei (1710-1786) handscroll from the Michael Fornitz collection stands out on its gorgeous gold leaf background; the large figures depicted with wonderous realism. Two Kano school hand-scrolls, by Michinobu (late 18th c.) and Akinobu (1814) belie the often held views that Kano school painters had little to offer after the mid 17th century. Both are notable for the uniqueness and strength of character of their protagonists.
The first half of the second room is dedicated to paintings with the sublime coloring of Miyagawa Choshun (1683-1753) and a glimpse of rare male-male or ‘nanshoku’ shunga highlights. Hanabusa Itcho (1652-1724) shows his usual lively sense of humour and mischief.
The second half of the show is dedicated to printed matter, both books and individual leaves.
A total of 120 works will be exhibited in two main phases. 6th of Feb through 6th of March and 8th of March through 10th of April.
The exhibition catalogue is quite unusual being printed in something akin to a B5 format and over 2 inches thick. Encyclopedic in its reproduction of every image on every page of every book and hand-scroll in the exhibition. The quality and sharpness of the printing suffers considerably. It would have been nice to see it split into two books; painted and printed works.
If you are in Kyoto absolutely make your way to the Hosomi museum. It will be a fascinating and memorable experience, not only for the wonderful works on display but also the priceless reactions of the visitors. It is fair to say the works are crying out for more space, in particular the many hand-scrolls. Typically only 1 or 2 images out of 12 from each can be displayed at any one time. One wonders if, as happened in Tokyo, the exhibition was refused by other Kyoto museums due to its risque subject matter.
Hosomi museum Shunga exhibition ends in..