Against Any Form Of Censorship: Erotic Art As Viewed By Eberhard and Phyllis Kronhausen
Something strange caught the attention of the population of Lund, Sweden, in the first weeks of May 1968. Several posters from "The first international exhibition of Erotic Art," which featured a black and white woodblock print by the seventeenth-century Japanese master Sugimura Jihei (Fig.1), were scattered throughout the city. They were affixed outside the railway station, in advertising frames on lamp posts along some of the main streets, in shop windows, and even alongside the town's ancient cathedral. The image created by Sugimura depicted a couple engaging in sexual activity and likely caused embarrassment for part of the population. A few weeks later, the posters were defaced and ultimately removed—along with the entire public notice board on which they had been mounted.
Fig.2. A sail flutters unperturbed in the breeze as the supposedly unexposable is exposed. Oil by Boris Vansier from his "Offrandes" series
Abolished Obscenity Law
Curated by the couple Phyllis (born 1929) and Eberhard Kronhausen (1915 - 2009), the exhibition was organized thanks to the abolished obscenity law passed in Sweden a few years earlier, allowing them to present the collection of erotic art they had gathered throughout the 1960s, as well as works by invited artists. The show, which ran from May 3 to July 31, 1968, was a resounding success. In the exhibition, it was possible to see people of all ages, from all social and educational backgrounds: “Lovers strolled through the galleries hand in hand; single men and women of all ages were equally numerous. Groups of teen-agers, one would say equally divided according to sex, could be seen in the museum every day. Students from the university, who were taking off time from cramming for final semester exams, were perhaps the most numerous single group of visitors”.
Fig.3. Visitors to the Lund exhibition
Fig.4. A young shy female visitor of the Lund exhibition in front of several ancient shunga scrolls
Over 800 Images
Since Denmark had also created a law abolishing obscenity, Eberhard and Phyllis Kronhausen decided to transfer the show from Lund to Aarhus in the fall (September 7 to October 27, 1968). Although other foreign institutions showed interest in hosting the exhibition, censorship laws in those countries prevented the project from moving forward.
As a follow-up to the exhibition, Eberhard and Phyllis published two books on erotic art in 1968 and 1970, later compiled under the title "The Complete Book of Erotic Art: A survey of erotic fact and fancy in the fine arts," now considered a classic. This book recounts the execution process of the show and features over 800 images related to erotic art. In the book, works from prehistory are presented, as well as pieces from Eastern countries such as Japan, China, and India. It includes contributions from renowned artists like André Masson, George Gross, Hans Bellmer, Man Ray and Rembrandt, as well as others who were not as well-known to the public at that time, such as Boris Vansier (Fig.2), Leonor Fini, and Karel Appel (Fig.9).
The exhibition organized by Eberhard and Phyllis Kronhausen was explicitly against censorship. When questioned about why they chose to organize an exhibition of erotic art, their response was: "we feel that erotic art, neglected, suppressed, and persecuted for centuries, has an important contribution to make to the understanding of art, the social history of mankind, and human happiness and progress."
It is essential to note that the exhibition of erotic art in Sweden and Denmark was not an isolated event in the careers of Eberhard and Phyllis Kronhausen. After meeting in 1954 at the University of Minnesota, where Phyllis, then 25, was an undergraduate studying business, and Eberhard, at the relatively late age of 39, was pursuing a Master's in psychology, they published their first book in 1959, titled "Pornography and the Law: The psychology of erotic realism and pornography." This was followed by "Sex Histories of American College Men" in 1960, based on Phyllis Kronhausen's experience as a lecturer in health education at a men's college in the Northeastern U.S.
In the extended Premium edition of the article more on their collaboration on other "erotic" projects, their vision on the boundary between pornography and art, the five different films they made exploring sexual behavior and taboo aspects, a comprehensive analysis of their contribution and the contemporary display of erotic art, 23 additional images of erotic works displayed at the exhibition + BONUS feature: a detailed description of a work at the exhibition that was deemed too provocative for the average museumgoer.
Click HERE for Man Ray's satirical view on the International Colonial Exhibition in 1931