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Once taboo Japanese erotic prints exhibited at Sotheby's Hong Kong Gallery
Keisai Eisen (1790 -1848), Passion in the Snows of Spring, Copy of Kaseikyu (Detail), 1822. Illustrated book, folding album, 23.0 x 33.0 cm. Photo: Sotheby's.
HONG KONG.- Following the success of the two contemporary ink art exhibitions in June, Sotheby's Hong Kong brings to Asia yet another unprecedented exhibition. Taking place from 18 to 31 July at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery, Beyond The Paper Screen – An Exhibition of Japanese Erotic Prints from The Uragami Collection will feature more than 60 prints and albums of shunga, or “spring pictures”-sexually explicit prints from the Edo period (1603-1868)-from the private collection of celebrated antique dealer Uragami Mitsuru. The exhibition will offer art collectors and lovers a glimpse of a genre of art once perceived as taboo in the Japanese society.

Uragami Mitsuru, Master of The Uragami Collection, says, “My collection of shunga began in 1997 with the sale of the collection of the Paris jeweller, Henri Vever, at Sotheby’s in London. Internationally, Japanese shungais regarded as erotic art of the highest order. The influence of Western ethics after the Meiji Period meant that shunga came to be regarded, both socially and academically, as taboo. However, the West has in recent years come to re-evaluate this form of art, with exhibitions held in Belgium, Finland, France, Spain and Hawaii. Among the latest ones is a three-month-long exhibition, entitled Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art, 1600-1900, that will run at the British Museum from 3 October 2013, an academic project which, according to Timothy Clark, Head of the Japanese Department at the British Museum, will be ‘ground-breaking in terms of demonstrating the high quality of shunga as art, and examining the relationship between sex and society’. As such, I am very pleased with this opportunity to share my collection with art lovers in this part of the world at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery.”

Angelika Li, Gallery Director, Sotheby’s Hong Kong, says, “Sotheby’s Hong Kong is delighted to present Beyond The Paper Screen – An Exhibition of Japanese Erotic Prints from The Uragami Collection on our 40th year in Asia. We are very honoured to work with Mr. Uragami Mitsuru who generously loans part of his extraordinary collection of shunga to enable Sotheby’s to bring this unique form of pre-modern Japanese erotic art to the audience in Asia. The exhibition offers a rare opportunity for art lovers and connoisseurs to understand more about shunga, as well as the general social and cultural perception of sexuality in the Edo period.”

A genre within the popular school of ukiyo-e, shunga or “spring pictures” refer to sexually explicit prints produced in large numbers during the Edo period (1603-1868). Viewed in the broader context of ukiyo-e, “pictures of the floating world”, shunga, at times tender, always whimsical, offer an extraordinary insight into the social habits and sexual psyche of pre-modern Japan, and is a subject of scholarship on Japan in Europe in particular. Almost all ukiyo-e artists of the Edo period produced shunga and among the renowned artists featured are Suzuki Harunobu (1724–1770, floruit), Katsukawa Shunsho (1726–1792), Kitagawa Utamaro (1754–1806) and Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849). After the Edo period, shunga came to be regarded as taboo due to the influence of Western ethics. It was only in recent years that academic interest in shunga was revived in the West, with exhibitions on the subject conducted in variously parts of Europe and the US.

* This exhibition contains explicit depictions of sexual acts and nudity. Only suitable for 18 and above.

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