Contemporary Japanese Ceramics

Few things speak of the cycle of creation and destruction like the insertion of a beautiful bonbon into the alimentary canal. Like divine feats of gastronomical ingenuity, objects from our rituals, beautifully designed packages and even words upon which we have slaved and sweated, end up so often as detritus, heaped in landfills for later generations of archaeologists to ponder.

Mishima Kimiyo, "Untitled," 2007, lent by Carol and Jeffrey Horvitz, photo: Richard Goodbody, courtesy of Joan B. Mirviss Ltd.

To help make this point and raise other questions with our viewers, I have selected works by three of the top conceptual artists in the field of contemporary Japanese ceramics, all on loan from Jeffrey and Carol Horvitz. In our contemporary ceramics case, located on the lobby level of the Pavilion for Japanese Art, I’ve placed a sculpture by Akiyama Yo with stacks of tea bowls crushed under the weight of compacted clay. One imagines this mangled stack to resemble the findings of archaeologists digging now in Kyoto, as they unearth the remains of seventeenth-century kilns. Hoshino Satoru’s work, by contrast, is a precious tea bowl, which a tea practitioner would carefully lift to inspect and remark upon before drinking from it during the course of a tea ceremony. If not for the good outcome from the kiln, Hoshino’s bowl might be found generations later in the same form depicted in Akiyama’s sculpture!

Akiyama Yo (born 1953) and Hoshino Satoru (born 1945) are both members of Sodeisha (the “crawling through the mud” group), whose members in the 1950s first created ceramic sculpture in Japan. Both love to grapple with issues of creation and destruction, as well as peering beneath the surface to see what exists within. Akiyama does this by burning and tearing his potted clay, while Hoshino punches and pinches to find the quality of the material beyond the facade.

Apparently a woman of formidable strength, which I have to assume after trying to pick up her work, Mishima Kimiyo (born 1932) makes ceramic sculpture using silkscreen as a featured technique. She wishes to pry from her audience the understanding that our trash is filling the world, and if not dealt with soon, it will come to represent us to future generations. So, she presents trash from our food packages and newspapers as a potential contemporary icon.

Hollis Goodall, Curator, Japanese Art

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