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Sex and Surveillance Explode with Erotic Energy in “Acts of Intimacy”

“Acts of Intimacy” is a captivating collection erotic photography by three of the greatest living Japanese artists.

Miss Rosenby Miss Rosen
Photo: Nobuyoshi Araki, Untitled, from “101 Works for Robert Frank (Private Diary),” 1993. Courtesy The Walther Collection (detail).

Sometimes the most sexy moments are surreptitious instances that you stumble upon, filled with the tantalizing, tingly sensation of transgressing societal norms. In Japan, voyeurism is considered extremely erotic, for it delves beneath the pristine surface of respectability politics. No longer required to don the mask of polite society, the true self emerges as something vulnerable yet bold, something that we only experience through the intimate world.

Also: Take a Walk on the Wild Side with Photographer Daido Moriyama

In celebration of this distinctive way of seeing the world, The Walther Collection, New York, presents Acts of Intimacy, a yearlong series devoted to contemporary photography and video art from Asia, to be presented in thematic exhibitions exploring ideas of performance, social identity, sexuality, and urban transformation.

Nobuyoshi Araki, Untitled, from “101 Works for Robert Frank (Private Diary),” 1993. Courtesy The Walther Collection

Nobuyoshi Araki, Untitled, from “101 Works for Robert Frank (Private Diary),” 1993. Courtesy The Walther Collection

The first exhibition, Acts of Intimacy: The Erotic Gaze in Japanese Photography, presents the work of Crave faves Nobuyoshi Araki, Daido Moriyama, and Kohei Yoshiyuki. Organized by guest curator Christopher Phillips, with support from Daniela Baumann and Oluremi C. Onabanjo, the exhibition is a sensual meditation on sexual subcultures in Japanese society, with each photographer sharing a distinct perspective that complements each other.

During the early 1990s, Araki gave photographer Robert Frank a handmade notebook of photographs that was editioned as a series, 101 Works for Robert Frank (Private Diary) in 1993. The works are presented two chronological grids that physically draw us close to the world, much as a voyeur finds themselves drawn to the object of their desire. Here we experience the meta sensation of looking: first through our own eyes, then through Araki’s. His photographs are delicate balances of innocence and innuendo, as a young girl in a sailor costume takes pleasure in eating a banana.

Daido Moriyama, Untitled, from “a room,” 2015. Courtesy The Walther Collection

Daido Moriyama, Untitled, from “a room,” 2015. Courtesy The Walther Collection

The works, made during a time when Araki was emerging from a long period of mourning after the death of his wife Yoko, present the self-portrait of a man reawakening to the pleasures of life. Through his eyes, we get to look at the world afresh, reminded of the titillating pleasures of youth, where sex is ripe and unfolding at every curve and turn.

The work of Moriyama is presented in a room (2015), featuring 67 images made from the 1980s to the present mad in the artist’s Tokyo apartment. Here we see the world of the artist, the space of the studio where women become the subject of contemplation. Depicted nude or semi-nude, the women are unidentified, their faces never fully revealed, turning them into archetypes, rather than individuals, for the pleasure of observing the flesh unto itself. Moriyama casts himself in the series as both participant and observer, allowing us to live vicariously through his experiences.

Kohei Yoshiyuki, Untitled, from “The Park,” 1971 Courtesy The Walther Collection

Kohei Yoshiyuki, Untitled, from “The Park,” 1971 Courtesy The Walther Collection

And finally, for the big bang, so to speak: Yoshiyuki’s notorious series The Park (1973). Here we delve into the clandestine world where public and private commingle with helpless abandon: the lovers mid-rendezvous in Tokyo parks at odd hours of the night. Using a flash and infrared film, Yoshiyuki captured not only the sexual encounters but the voyeurs enjoying the view. In this series of work we see the relationship between surveillance and sex, the space where the peeper finds his counterpoint: the exhibitionist. No longer is the subject semi-innocent; here they are fully aware, excited by the audience.

Acts of Intimacy: The Erotic Gaze in Japanese Photography is a beautifully curated exhibition that works on several levels at the same time, reminding us that the pleasure of looking is in its own way a search for sensual stimulation, physical intimacy, and an understanding of the nature of life, making us participants in this quiet celebration of the pleasures of the flesh.


Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Whitewall, Dazed Digital, Jocks and Nerds, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.