'Astonishingly explicit' Shunga art at the British Museum
Japanese erotic art show leaves little to the imagination, but it's a world away from pornography
What you need to know
A new exhibition of Japanese erotic art opens at the British Museum today. Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art presents over 140 explicit prints, paintings and drawings made between 1600 to 1900.
The works known as Shunga (spring pictures) were mostly created by artists from the ukiyo-e or 'floating world' school, and include Utamaro's 1788 Poem of the Pillow. The exhibition also looks at the legacy of Shunga, from its influence on European artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec, Beardsley, Rodin and Picasso, to contemporary Japanese Manga graphics.
Parental guidance for under-16s. Runs until 5 January.
What the critics like
The British Museum's new exhibition "is a mixture of artistic sensibility and imagery that leaves nothing to the imagination", says Mark Hudson in the Daily Telegraph. Shunga reaches its apogee in Utamaro's Poem of the Pillow, one of the most elegant and exquisitely refined works of erotica ever.
Shunga is an "astonishingly explicit" genre but compared with the porn and lads mags everywhere you look, it's an oddly gentle way of portraying sex and love, says Ruth Styles in the Daily Mail. Most of the images are loving, even tender, and Torii Kiyonaga's 1785 Handscroll for the Sleeve is a particularly stunning depiction of love between an older couple.
"This art is sexy," says Jonathan Jones in The Guardian. But it's a world away from pornography, depicting men and women with a sensual imagination that is disarmingly loving, without violence or cruelty and above all, no sense of sin.
What they don't like
You can't completely remove the sense that many of these prints objectify women and that the women are often there to satisfy the man, says Adrian Hamilton in The Independent. But "what comes through most from these works is the humour and humanity of them", and their artistic quality. ·