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British Museum to host exhibition about sex in Japanese art


The British Museum is set to hold an exhibition on the subject of sex in Japanese art.

Thousands of erotic paintings, prints, and illustrated books with texts were produced in 18th Century Japan.

The sexually explicit art, which will go on display in the autumn, was euphemistically called shunga (spring pictures).

The museum has been undertaking a project on what shunga is and why it was produced.

Speaking at the launch of its annual review, museum director Neil MacGregor said: "This is an exhibition on sex in Japan which is on one level like sex everywhere else but on another very different."

One of the objects on display will be an 18th Century screen which shows "a finishing school for tarts".

"You can see all the skills (in the screen) that the successful tart has to address," Mr MacGregor said.

"You will see in the exhibition the skills being deployed to perhaps a startling effect," he said of the objects going on display.

Visitors will be warned about sexual content before entering the exhibition.

Mr MacGregor said: "We will simply alert the visitor. When we showed the Warren Cup (a Roman object known for its homoerotic scenes) we simply put a note outside explaining that it had explicit scenes on it...we had no complaints."

He added: "Shunga is a known genre in Japanese art. Like still-life landscape, it has its own tradition."

Shunga was created by artists such as Utamaro and Hokusai during a period when Japan was governed by strict Confucian laws.

There has recently been a revival in appreciation of the art form, which first appeared as graffiti hidden on 7th Century Buddhist statues and in 8th Century sex manuals.

It experienced a high point with the development of full-colour printing in the 18th Century, but began to fade out with Westernisation in the late 19th Century.

The British Museum will also hold an exhibition next year on Germany, marking the 25th anniversary of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.

Mr MacGregor said that there would already be a great deal of attention paid to the centenary of the First World War.

He said: "We want to think about a longer, a wider and a different view of Germany."

He said of the Autumn exhibition: "2014 is 25 years since Germany as we know it was made. That seems a really important question to address. What was united in 1989?"

He added: "There will be a great deal of national focus on the centenary of the First World War... What we're going to look at is a much longer history of Germany.

"When Germany was remade in 1989 what memories from the past did those people bring? It's a much longer view of the German past and German identity."

The museum has previously announced two other new exhibitions - Beyond El Dorado: Power And Gold In Ancient Colombia, and a display on the Vikings which could "change the way we think about our history".

The museum, the leading visitor attraction in the UK, released figures showing that blockbuster exhibitions including Ice Age Art and Pompeii, led to a huge increase in visitor numbers last month - up 42 per cent on May 2012.