Sexual fantasies of East Asian artists on display

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Sexual fantasies of East Asian artists on display


An erotic Chinese painting depicts the interior of a home in detail, with the space dwarfing the couple in repose.[HWAJEONG MUSEUM]

In the art gallery neighborhood of Pyeongchang-dong in central Seoul, the Hwajeong Museum has dedicated a permanent exhibition room to displaying chunhwa, literally “paintings of spring.”

But far from flowers, birds and other depictions of vernal awakening, the phrase is actually a euphemism for erotic art, as spring, in traditional Korean literature, has usually been associated with sexual desire.

Using its rich collection of ancient East Asian art, the Hwajeong Museum has held special exhibitions on erotic art in the past. The popularity of these exhibitions, titled “Lust,” led the museum to create a separate room dedicated to permanently showing its collection of erotic art.

The museum will rotate the pieces in four-month cycles based on four themes. The first theme, currently on view through April 2018, compares chunhwa from China, Japan and Korea. The next rotation will focus on chunhwa from China, the third will focus on art from Japan and the last show will focus on erotic paintings across different seasons.

The works on view are quite explicit, with unabashedly visceral depictions of bodies in every possible sexual position. The couples range in age and social status to show the different dynamics of intercourse in ancient Asia.

In the current rotation, 45 paintings and craft pieces, mostly from the Edo Period of Japan (1603-1868) and Qing Dynasty of China (1644-1912), are on view. Of the 45 pieces, 27 are from Japan, 16 from China and two from Korea. The explicit images might overwhelm visitors, but they reflect the culture and sexual mores of the times.

Several Chinese pieces depict the ancient practice of foot-binding and admiration of small feet in ancient Chinese society. Books of paintings by anonymous artists depict the interior designs of homes in detail, with the spaces sometimes dwarfing the couples in repose.

A Japanese book titled “Elegant Amorous Mane’emon” illustrates the story of a man who is shrunk down to the size of a bean and travels the country peeping at couples engaging in sexual intercourse - and learning skills from them. In each of the book’s paintings, the bean-size man is located on the edge of the painting, observing how others make love.


Left: A foreword to an erotic Japanese novel depicts a book rental owner emphasizing to readers that they carefully read the text, not just the drawings. Right: Erotic art drawn on shells. [HWAJEONG MUSEUM]

Other pieces offer insight into how erotic literature and art was disseminated in ancient times.

On the inside cover of another book, “Shugen Ironaoshi,” a bald man, depicted as the owner of a book rental shop, implores readers to carefully read the text - not just the images - because it might be difficult to understand the book by merely looking at the drawings.

The tongue-in-cheek foreword suggests that erotic art and literature might have been distributed in Edo Japan through rental shops like the one illustrated in the book.

The exaggerated positions on display also raise curiosity. In particular, the sexual gymnastics portrayed in “Bihuido” from the late Ming to early Qing Dynasty, pique the imagination, as the poses seem impossible for humans to follow.

“There are records saying that some people injured their backs trying to follow the poses,” said Kim Oak-in, a curator at the museum. “Fantasies that people dreamed of appear to have been illustrated through chunhwa.”


Admission to the exhibition costs 5,000 won ($4.60) and is open to adults only. The museum’s hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. It is closed on Mondays and public holidays. Visitors can get off at Gyeongbokgung Station, line No. 3, exit 3, and walk for about 10 minutes. For more information, visit or call (02) 2075-0114.

늘 야릇한 미술관

춘화 상설 전시장이 탄생했다. 서울 평창동 화정박물관. 동아시아 고미술 등 다양한 소장품을 보유한 이 박물관은 2010년, 2013년 두 차례 에로틱 아트전 ‘LUST’를 열어 주목받은 데 이어 이번에는 전시실 한 곳(제5전시실)을 아예 춘화를 상설 전시하는 곳으로 꾸몄다. 앞으로 4개월마다 주제에 맞춰 전시를 교체할 예정이다.

첫 번째 전시로는 중국 청나라 시기와 일본 에도시대를 중심으로 춘화와 공예품 45점을 선보이는 ‘동아시아 삼국의 춘화’가 진행 중이다. 적나라한 묘사가 안겨주는 시각적 충격과 더불어 풍속화로서 춘화의 다양한 특징이 드러난다.

‘춘궁화첩’ ‘화영금진’ 등 각각 책으로 묶인 작자미상의 중국 춘화는 실내장식을 자세히 묘사하고 남녀의 신체는 상대적으로 작게 그려 풍속화의 인상이 강하다. 춘화첩 제목 중에는 ‘피화춘도’도 있다. 이를 지니면 불을 피할 수 있다는 의미다. 춘화를 이르는 다른 말로 쓰이는 동시에 춘화를 소장할 그럴듯한 명분을 주는 셈이다.

일본의 춘화는 이야기책 같은 형태를 띤 작품이 여럿 자리했다. ‘풍류염색마네몬’은 콩알만 한 크기로 변신한 사람이 전국을 돌며 이른바 색도(色道)를 익히는 구성이다. ‘축언색녀남사’는 속표지 첫머리에 책 대여점 주인이 등장, 그림만 봐선 깊은 이해가 힘드니 글도 주의 깊게 읽어야 한다고 당부한다. 대여를 통해서도 춘화가 널리 유통됐음을 짐작하게 한다.

남녀 가운데 여성의 피부를 더 하얗게 그리거나 전족을 한 여성의 작은 발을 부각하는 등 다양한 기법도 눈에 띈다. 과장법도 빼놓을 수 없다. 특히 중국 명말 청초의 ‘비희도’는 기계체조라도 하는 것 같다. 인간의 몸으로 가능할 것 같지 않은 자세가 담겨 있다. 김옥임 책임연구원은 “따라하다 허리가 부러졌다는 기록도 있다”며 “춘화는 때로는 이랬으면, 저랬으면 하는 판타지를 담고 있는 것으로 보인다”고 전했다. 19세 미만 관람불가. 관람료 5000원.

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