Japan in Paris, France. La Cité de l’amour, mais aussi la cité de l’art japonais. Only a couple of hours from London St. Pancras, and cheap, if you book the Eurostar in advance and a nice Paris Hotel online. If you want to learn more on Japan, why not combine it with a few days in the Capital of the Grande Nation? Several ongoing expositions in Paris feature Japanese Visual Art. First, go to the museum “Art Ludique” on the Quai d’Austerlitz. The exhibition there entitled “Drawings from Studio Ghibli – The Layout Secrets that help to understand the animation of Takahata and Miyazaki” explains the structure of many Ghibli anime frames and the relationship between characters and their background. The catalog is affluent, many visual examples to enjoy: Kiki, Chihiro, Princess Mononoke.
After a well deserved café crème, hop on the Métro and check out the Pinacothèque at Place Marianne. The exhibition “L’art de l’amour au temps de geishas” (The Art of Love in the Time of the Geishas, until February 2015) features shunga (erotic) woodblock prints from the Tokugawa Period. What I learned is that there is always a “third element” on these pictures. Unlike cheap pornography, the Japanese artists depict e.g. persons observing others in the act, thus opening up a second, different perspective. Sometimes babies or servants are present and distract from the supposed “central” motive – or emphasise it.
Paris is certainly a wonderful location to display erotic art from Japan, but the most impressive exhibition at the moment is in the “Musée Quai Branly”, right behind the Eiffel Tower. It is entitled “Tatoueurs – Tatoués” and will run until October 2015. Japanese yakuza bodies and artists working on other peoples’ skins (or collecting them) cover a remarkable share of the global show. But it also exhibits tattoos from cultures in South Asia, the South Pacific, South America, or from 19th century jails and army camps in Central Europe.
Japan – Empire of Signs: Roland Barthes’ famous equation definitely includes Japanese art on human skin: traces of beauty, suffering, loyalty, groupism, discipline, self-control and self-expression at the same time. Japan is also the home of vague and ambivalent communication (“no de wa nai deshouka”?). Paris, the capital of love, helps us to keep up.