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Exhibition of erotic art of Japan opens at Scholten Japanese Art
Keisai Eisen (1790-1848), Geisha on the Sumida River, from the series, Grass on the Way of Love (Koi no Michikusa), ca. 1825-28, woodblock print, 10 3/8 by 15 1/8 in., 26.4 by 38.5 cm.

NEW YORK, NY.- Scholten Japanese Art announces their gallery exhibition, Erotic Art of Japan: Everybody’s Doing It an exhibition primarily of woodblock prints known as shunga (lit. ‘spring pictures’).

The exhibition title is not just a double-entendre but actually a triple-entendre. First, the obvious sexual innuendo; second, that ALL of the major and minor artists of the ukiyo-e (art of the floating world) genre designed shunga even though there was a time when scholars didn't want to believe that. Finally, there have been recent exhibitions on shunga at museums such as the Honolulu Museum of Art and the British Museum, which enjoyed an unprecedented amount of public attention. It would appear that shunga is having its moment and literally, everyone IS doing it.

The gallery has been waiting to offer these works for a long time—this exhibition is over fifteen years in the making. Mr. Scholten began purchasing Japanese erotic prints and books in the 1990s, recognizing an opportunity to acquire beautiful works, in great condition, by some of the most important artists of the genre. Shunga is, by its very nature, explicit and provoking; but in some cases this works as an advantage, things that are tucked away can also be preserved in stunningly good condition with nearly pristine color.

There are over 50 remarkable works on view at the gallery completely maxing out their available wall space, and over 150 images on their website (because there are several sets of multiple prints). The formats include two complete sets of twelve sheets by Suzuki Harunobu (fl. ca. 1724-1770) and Kikugawa Eizan (1787-1867); two orihon (folded albums) attributed to Harunobu and Isoda Koryusai (fl. ca. 1764-1789); and a complete set of three ehon (illustrated books) attributed to Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806). Furthermore, numerous single sheets by the previous artists as well as other famous representatives of ukiyo-e, including Torii Kiyonaga (1752-1815), Katsukawa Shuncho (fl. ca. 1780-1795), Keisei Eisen (1790-1848), Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), Yanagawa Shigenobu (1787-1832), and several Utagawa school works from the 19th century. The exhibition also includes at least one painted hand scroll.

One of the most lovely prints in the exhibition is a composition by Harunobu from ca. 1768 depicting two lovers on an open verandah staring into each other's eyes. They are surrounded by small details such as a tobacco set, a padded lacquer pillow, and bright goldfish in a basin which is partially concealed by woven blinds. Blooming irises line a water's edge and a bell sways in the breeze—it must be a warm spring or early summer evening. The way the figures are seated but entwined, the tender way they lock eyes, the overall balance of composition and the beautiful color palette in remarkably fresh condition all contribute to why this print is one of the best in the exhibition.

In contrast, leap forward nearly fifty years to Selections from the Brocade Quarter (E-awase Kinkaisho), a complete set of twelve prints by Kikugawa Eizan (1787-1867) published around 1815. Aptly named, the ‘Brocade Quarter’ series depicts a variety of encounters, some between courtesans and customers; some are secret lovers; some are husband and wife; but all of the compositions are as much concerned with the sexual acts as they are with the stylization of decorative details. Eizan was well-known for his focus on clothing, patterns, colors and brocades. The designs in this series are no exception- they are a riot of color and lavishly produced with abundant use of expensive materials such as metallic pigments.

Scholten Japanese Art is located at 145 West 58th Street, Suite 6D, between 6th and 7th Avenues. For the duration of the exhibition, March 13 – 22nd, the gallery will have general open hours (no appointments needed), 11 – 5 pm.

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