Works of porcelain and pottery have been an art form in Japan for centuries.
Currently, two exhibitions are taking a modern look at Japanese ceramics with an eye toward modern artistic expression born of traditional techniques cultivated through the ages.
"Art Crafting Toward the Future" at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, in Ishikawa Prefecture, centers around ceramics created by 12 living artists.
Upon entering the first gallery at the 21st Century Museum, the visitor's senses are overwhelmed, as if one had stepped into a virtual environment. Hanging on the walls are five large platters created by Masayasu Mitsuke. Featuring intricate red patterns, they appear to float within a white space. Visitors can admire the plates as a pattern, a whole, gently overturning our preconception that they are to be admired individually.
Fukuoka doll maker Shinkyo Nakamura's nine depictions of young boys sent as envoys to Europe during the Edo Period (1603-1867) range from large dolls to some less than 70 centimeters tall. The dolls have a calm and gentle bearing. However, placed in a gallery with a ceiling nine meters above, the display lures the visitor to a world dating back 400 years with its powerful "narrative fashion."
Each of the 12 artists featured at "Art Crafting Toward the Future" concentrates on a different age and has their own individual outlook. In addition to skill, the criteria for selecting the artists by museum director Yuji Akimoto included whether they possessed a "world view" as an expression of modern living.
Meanwhile, skill undoubtedly lurks behind the face of subculture and popular culture. Yuki Hayama tells a tale reminiscent of an anime or monster movie with masterful tones of gosu porcelain. Elsewhere, Takuro Kuwata uses giant vessels to create a joyous texture of traditional tea bowls with curls of glaze and pebbles baked into the pottery.
"This is a time of globalization and homogenization in which we will rethink local character (and its place globally)," Akimoto said. "In this sense, this is why handicrafts made from local, analog components are interesting."
These local areas, Akimoto adds, as well as themes, are expanding outward from the West, which had been the heartland of handicrafts. According to Akimoto, the new work, steeped in the techniques of the past, but with an eye to the future, can be considered "modern art."
"Art Crafting Toward the Future" runs until Aug. 31.
At the "Fushigi! Tanoshii! Gendai Togei" (Mystery! Fun! Modern Ceramics) exhibition at the Ibaraki Ceramic Art Museum in Kasama, the concept differs from the general perception that ceramics are only about bowls, with works mainly from the Showa and Heisei eras (1926-present).
One gallery features "Iroe Kinsai Nekozu Nezumi Takaukibori Kabin," a vase by Kozan Miyagawa, the first master of his stupendous technique, and "Teacup Poodle" by Makiko Nakamura. One is made to wonder whether the theme of this gallery is animals or people.
The exhibition is touted as an "introductory course for parents and their children." By not dividing the art into separate periods, the expressive power stands out--even that which resides in Miyagawa's excessive decorativeness.
Also of great interest are works by female artists Tomoko Konno and Kyoko Tokumaru, which make one think of the inside of the human body or human reproduction. One could also see them as a manifestation of the spirit of traditional "decoration" in Japanese handicrafts.
More than a century has passed since the beginning of the "early-modern" period, when art and handicrafts went their separate ways. A new handicrafts horizon may be opening up, heralding a liberalization from our preconceived notions.
"Fushigi! Tanoshii! Gendai Togei" runs until Sept. 23.
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