NOVEMBER 9, 2016 - NOVEMBER 26, 2017

Contemporary Japanese artists are taking a number of turns—from functional forms, from apprenticeships, from traditional materials, and from exclusively male production—to shape sculptural ceramics. The Sculptural Turn showcases the work of fourteen Japanese clay artists, all but one born after World War II. 

Their work expands on an earlier generation of artists who moved away from functional works like vases and tea ware that for centuries had formed the mainstay of Japanese ceramic production. Unlike previous generations of potters who learned in the studios of master craftsmen, these artists studied in universities and in many cases came to ceramics after exploring other fields. They are masters of technique, material, and concept. Their practices are informed by cosmopolitan sources, even when they are part of a longstanding family lineage or regional tradition.

Drawn together by collectors with an eye for the abstract, minimalist, and expressionistic contemporary art, the objects in The Sculptural Turn tell a story of the evolving character of clay in Japan.

Today, clay artists in Japan continue to create work in conversation with contemporary art movements while simultaneously drawing inspiration from rich ceramic traditions and the senior artists who uphold these traditions, officially designated as Living National Treasures.

The diverse artists featured in this exhibition include masters as well as rising young stars. They include some of Japan’s leading female potters—Fujikasa Satoko, Fujino Sachiko, Futamura Yoshimi, Hattori Makiko, Katsumata Chieko, Kishi Eiko, Koike Shoko, Ogawa Machiko, and Sakurai Yasuko—who comprise the first generation of women to distinguish themselves in a traditionally male field. All bring their unique skills and visions to their work, which has been collected by Dr. Phyllis A. Kempner and Dr. David D. Stein of San Francisco.

In Japan, ceramics are embedded with many layers of cultural meaning. Their history touches on ritual, function, and aesthetics as well as stories of cultural interaction, trade, and technical mastery. In the early twentieth century, the Mingei movement celebrated the rustic simplicity of folk arts, and its potters created functional ceramics that reflected regional characteristics. In the postwar period, some Japanese ceramicists based in and around Kyoto formed avant-garde associations in opposition to tradition, seeking instead to push clay art toward sculptural and abstract forms.

Shikokai, founded in 1947, and Sodeisha, founded in 1948, were two pioneering groups of ceramic artists who presented their work as fine art rather than craft and were inspired by international Modern artists such as Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Paul Klee (1879-1940), Joan Miro (1893-1983), and Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988). The artists in The Sculptural Turn follow the work of these experimental pioneers, while other contemporary Japanese ceramic artists continue to follow more conventional forms and practices.

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OBJECT GALLERY

EXHIBITION HIGHLIGHTS

Untitled, 2009. By Ogawa Machiko (Japanese, b. 1946). Stoneware and porcelain with pooling glass. Promised gift of Dr. Phyllis A. Kempner and Dr. David D. Stein. Photograph © Asian Art Museum.

Untitled, 2009. By Ogawa Machiko (Japanese, b. 1946). Stoneware and porcelain with pooling glass. Promised gift of Dr. Phyllis A. Kempner and Dr. David D. Stein. Photograph © Asian Art Museum.

Ogawa Machiko’s artistic connection to raw natural beauty is linked to her time living abroad with her anthropologist husband as well as to the seaside landscape of her hometown of Sapporo on the island of Hokkaido. “It is my passion for the earth that drives my continual search for the essential in art. The vessel form, with both interior and exterior space, enables me to best pursue this quest—it is not about making vases. Rather, I am inspired by the concept of emptiness within the whole.”*  Ogawa studied ceramics with three Living National Treasures in Tokyo and at the Ecole des Arts et Metiers in Paris, then continued her studies in Burkina Faso in West Africa and in South America.

*”Machiko Ogawa: New Exhibition,” Erskine, Hall & Coe, London 2016.

Box, 2009. By Kondo Takahiro (Japanese, b. 1958). Porcelain with glaze. Gift of Dr. Phyllis A. Kempner and Dr. David D. Stein, 2016.156.a-b. Photograph © Asian Art Museum.

Box, 2009. By Kondo Takahiro (Japanese, b. 1958). Porcelain with glaze. Gift of Dr. Phyllis A. Kempner and Dr. David D. Stein, 2016.156.a-b. Photograph © Asian Art Museum.

Kondo Takahiro’s ceramics incorporate glass, silver, gold, and platinum to achieve a technically innovative effect he calls “silver mist” (ginteki). He studied literature before immersing himself in ceramics and design in Kyoto and Edinburgh. His stark, architectural works, such as this functional box, reflect his interest in minimalist sculpture as well as in Neolithic monuments such as the Standing Stones of Stenness in Orkney, Scotland.

Noh-Inspired Form With Colored Clay Inlays (Saiseki Zogan Nokata), 2007. By Kishi Eiko (Japanese, b. 1948). Stoneware with colored clay inlays. Collection of Dr. Phyllis A. Kempner and Dr. David D. Stein. Photograph © Asian Art Museum.

Noh-Inspired Form With Colored Clay Inlays (Saiseki Zogan Nokata), 2007. By Kishi Eiko (Japanese, b. 1948). Stoneware with colored clay inlays. Collection of Dr. Phyllis A. Kempner and Dr. David D. Stein. Photograph © Asian Art Museum.

Kishi Eiko studied anthropology, archaeology, art history, textile dyeing, and painting before focusing on ceramics. Her austere, angular works resemble cut stone or molded concrete, an effect achieved through her signature method that involves kneading together raw clay and colored fired-clay pieces. The artist uses her hands and simple tools to roll the mixture flat into slabs and then build it into forms. Kishi incises the forms with knives and needles, then fills the resulting tiny holes with a colored, watery clay mixture, resulting in a surface composed of thousands of subtle striations of color.

Moment In White C (Shiroi Toki C), 2012. By Fujino Sachiko (Japanese, b. 1950). Stoneware with matte glaze. Promised gift of Dr. Phyllis A. Kempner and Dr. David D. Stein. Photograph © Asian Art Museum.

Moment In White C (Shiroi Toki C), 2012. By Fujino Sachiko (Japanese, b. 1950). Stoneware with matte glaze. Promised gift of Dr. Phyllis A. Kempner and Dr. David D. Stein. Photograph © Asian Art Museum.

Fujino Sachiko’s organic sculptural forms resemble withered plants that relate to her childhood memories of gardens filled with cultivated flowers and unruly weeds. She says, “We see in nature an infinite number of relations that exist in a delicate balance. There is a similarity between this balance with nature and the equilibrium necessary to create sculptural works.”* Fujino worked as a fashion designer and fabric dyer in Kyoto prior to studying with the pioneering female ceramicist Tsuboi Asuka (b. 1932) in the 1980s.

*“Collapse/Rebirth: Sculpture by Fujino Sachiko and Futamura Yoshimi,” Joan B. Mirviss Ltd., New York, 2016

Corolla No. 3 (Kakan), 2007. By Miwa Kazuhiko (Japanese, b. 1951). Stoneware with straw-ash glaze. Promised gift of Dr. Phyllis A. Kempner and Dr. David D. Stein. Photograph © Asian Art Museum.

Corolla No. 3 (Kakan), 2007. By Miwa Kazuhiko (Japanese, b. 1951). Stoneware with straw-ash glaze. Promised gift of Dr. Phyllis A. Kempner and Dr. David D. Stein. Photograph © Asian Art Museum.

Miwa Kazuhiko is from a celebrated family of potters from the town of Hagi, Yamaguchi prefecture, including two Living National Treasures known for their tea wares. He continues to work with the ruddy clay and white glaze that define traditional Hagi ware, sometimes exploring abstract sculptural shapes and sometimes creating functional pieces. He was inspired at a young age by the American ceramic artist Peter Voulkos and later moved to the United States to study at the San Francisco Art Institute from 1975–1981.

Untitled, 2012. By Futamara Yoshimi (Japanese, b. 1959). Stoneware and porcelain. Promised gift of Dr. Phyllis A. Kempner and Dr. David D. Stein. Photograph © Asian Art Museum.

Untitled, 2012. By Futamara Yoshimi (Japanese, b. 1959). Stoneware and porcelain. Promised gift of Dr. Phyllis A. Kempner and Dr. David D. Stein. Photograph © Asian Art Museum.

Futamura Yoshimi uses a blend of stoneware and porcelain to create collapsed sculptural forms with a rugged, almost volcanic appearance. In her words, “I seek to express movement, to express the power that lies within clay.”* She has lived and worked in Paris since 1986, a choice she made in part to avoid the gender biases in Japan that might have restricted her career.

*Noel Montrucchio, “Yoshimi Futamura,” Puls Contemporary Ceramics, Brussels, 2014

Kei (Mindscape), 2014. By Mihara Ken (Japanese, b. 1958). Multifired stoneware. Promised gift of Dr. Phyllis A. Kempner and Dr. David D. Stein. Photograph © Asian Art Museum. 

Kei (Mindscape), 2014. By Mihara Ken (Japanese, b. 1958). Multifired stoneware. Promised gift of Dr. Phyllis A. Kempner and Dr. David D. Stein. Photograph © Asian Art Museum. 

Mihara Ken creates purely sculptural works in the tradition of sekki, a high-fired, unglazed ceramic made of clay from his native city of Izumo in Shimane prefecture. “I consider it my job to help the clay express its beauty. Clay leads, and my hands follow. I do not know what shape my work is going to end up even while I am making it . . . . My intentions vanish once the piece is fired. Once in the fire, the piece is no longer mine—it has its own life and resolution.”*

*Interview with Mihara Ken, Robert Yellin Yakimono Gallery, Kyoto, 2002

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