Peeping, Probing, & Porn


In Japan, artists have created erotic art for thousands of years but nothing rivals the creative explosion of erotic imagery created during the Edo period (1603-1868). From inexpensive brothel guide books that explicitly pictured the pleasures awaiting paying customers to the most elegant images of courtesans, Japanese prints from this period celebrated the unbridled pursuit of pleasure that defined Japan’s new and flourishing urban centers. In the city of Edo, now Tokyo, the ‘floating world’ of brothels and theatres were at the centre of this new popular culture. “In particular, Edo’s licensed brothel district, the Yoshiwara, was a locus of both real and imagined licentiousness. Untold sums of money exchanged hands on a nightly basis in this pleasure quarter and the thousands of beauties housed behind its walls provided artistic inspiration to printmakers for over two hundred and fifty years.

Many of the prints created at this time have become world famous, but few in the West are aware of the much larger oeuvre of culturally complex erotic art that was created during the Edo period. The most explicit prints, called shunga or ‘spring pictures’, have rarely been seen in the West because of their frank pornographic content. By re-contextualizing the more familiar icons ofJapanese printmaking within the larger body of more overt pornographic work to which they belong, Peeping, Probing and Porn revealed the erotic iconography of Edo period prints and offered a rare glimpse at long sequestered prints.It explores the relationship between the realities of the Yosh wara and the romanticized images of brothel beauties depicted in print, the role of print and sex culture in the larger Edo economy and looked at how the visual vocabulary of Edo period eroticism continues to impact Japanese visual cultural, particularly the plethora of manga and anime which are currently exerting great influence on Western popular culture today.

EXHIBITION CREDITS

CURATORIAL

  • Elizabeth Semmelhack, Curator
  • Karen Eckhaus, Assistant Curator

LENDERS

    Geographicus.com

  • Things Japanese Gallery, New York
  • Dr. June Reinisch

DESIGN

  • 2×4, Inc.

AUDIO DESIGN

  • Charles Gansa


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