Shunga: Erotic Art from Japan

One of the foremost collections of erotic art from the floating world makes waves in Vienna.

Despite countless attempts by officials to prohibit and destroy erotic art during Japan’s Edo period, (1603-1867) the MAK’s exhibition of 4200 sheets by ukiyo-e artists remains a testament to the fact that sex sells. Far from serving pornographic purposes however, the interest in Shunga by Western audiences shows not only the desire to exhibit the historical relevance of this frequently-tabooed art form, but also its enduring fascination. A chronological narrative of panels, albums, books and woodcuts by renowned masters leads visitors through the aesthetic shifts and fashions of erotic art.

© Estate of Martin Kippenberger/Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne

Shunga’s origins date back to the Heian period (794 to 1185), when scrolls depicted the scandals of the imperial court. Circulation skyrocketed with the arrival of cheaper woodblock printing in the 17th century: suddenly it wasn’t just the aristocratic few who could afford erotic content: peasants, merchants and samurai could also enjoy the promiscuous pleasures of titillated courtesans.

Although best known for his iconic The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Katsushika Hokusai also dabbled in erotic woodcuts. Blending mythology and ghosts with erotic fantasy, he added nipples, foreplay, exaggerated genitalia and even octopi to his works.

Likewise, Utamaro, known for his provocatively perverse drawings of highly explicit sexual escapades, has become one of the most sought-after Japanese artists of the period. Rarely seen on the market, the MAK offers an intriguing opportunity to see Utamaro’s work, including his most coveted series The Prelude to Desire in its rare entirety.

Alongside the exhibition’s impressive array of hitherto unseen sexual tableaux, decadent urban gentility and dream-like impossibility, Nobuyoshi Araki’s contemporary nude photographs featuring bondage and sexually suggestive flora and fauna, eliciting both controversy and intrigue, consummately connects the show to the present day.

© Estate of Martin Kippenberger/Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne

Oct 12 – Jan 29, MAK  Now extended through Mar 5.

Genevieve Doyle
Genevieve Doyle is writing for METROPOLE on her summer off from reading English Literature at The University of Cambridge. When she isn’t attending fairs to buy and source beautiful antiques and textiles, she likes painting murals and walking her very large Irish deerhound.

Help us help you

“Strong media and independent journalism are built on the shoulders of subscribers. Your support means the world to us.

Benjamin Wolf
COO & Managing Editor

The coronavirus outbreak affects and challenges your life in big and small ways. Metropole is here for you and we are proud to be your news source during this crisis.

But just as the coronavirus has increased the need for independent journalism, it has also undercut a major revenue source of media companies, ours included – advertising.

We need your support to keep it up – donate or subscribe and #helpushelpyou!

Support Metropole!


RECENT Articles

Coronavirus in Austria & Vienna | Higher Unemployment

The coronavirus has arrived in Austria. Here’s all you need to know about current measures, including where to get help, information and tips – updated regularly.

Transylvania | Over the River and Through the Woods

With a total area of over 100,000 km2, modern day Transylvania is the largest region of Romania, and, by itself, larger than Austria.

More Current Than Ever, Nina Simone – Four Women Brings Down the House at ...

A stellar cast and memorable songs transports the Civil Rights movement to the #BlackLivesMatter era

Election Fever in Vienna

As the city prepares to go to the polls, the streets are plastered with party propaganda posters. Michael Ludwig will almost certainly remain mayor, but his potential partners are pitching for a piece of power.

Trump Praises Austrian “Forest Cities” With Exploding Trees

With some highly unusual comments meant to put California’s environmental management in a bad light, the U.S. president set off a twitter storm of mockery and once again exposed his ignorance of the world.

Hometown Explorers

As travel restrictions eviscerate Vienna’s hospitality sector, the city’s tour guides show locals the oddities, hidden spots and secrets of the city they call home.


Join over 5,000 Metropolitans, who already get monthly news updates and event invitations.