Cultural traditions such as the tea ceremony (chanoyu) and flower arranging (ikebana) have contributed to an unrivalled reverence for ceramics in Japan that extends well beyond functionality. A tea master’s thoughtful choice of ceramics for use in the tea ceremony, for example, reflects a level of taste and sophistication that is central to the communication of hospitality. For guests to receive the full sensory experience, they must actively participate in appreciating the nuances of a ceramic vessel’s shape, decoration, texture, and feel in the hand, as well as to recognize the connections of those ceramics to tea tradition and history.
In the early twentieth century, inspired by the English Arts and Crafts movement and reacting against rapid industrialization, Yanagi Soetsu—along with his potter friends Hamada Shoji, Bernard Leach, and Kawaii Kanjiro—founded the Japanese Folk Art Association, which fostered the idea of the studio potter, an individual artist who actively participates in every aspect of ceramic-making. During this time, ceramic artists were first officially recognized in government-sponsored exhibitions as producing work on the level of fine art.
Concerted efforts in postwar Japan to revive traditional crafts and reestablish national identity fostered the flourishing of a ceramic arts movement that continues to thrive today. A system of government-sponsored exhibitions and official recognition through designations such as the popularly termed Living National Treasure, along with numerous exhibitions sponsored by major newspapers and department stores, has brought a level of public awareness to ceramic artists such that the most famous enjoy nothing short of celebrity status.
This exhibition, drawn from the Johnson Museum’s permanent collection along with loans from private collectors, presents the astonishing range of forms, clays, glazes, and technical virtuosity that enlivens modern and contemporary Japanese ceramic art. Included here are works by artists who look to the great ceramic traditions of Japan, Korea, and China for inspiration, as well as by those determined to push the art of ceramics into uncharted new directions.
The Johnson’s fine collection of modern Japanese ceramics would not be what it is today without the expertise and generosity of Dr. Frederick Baekeland and his wife, Joan, by whom many American curators and collectors were first introduced to the wonderful work of these artists. The Johnson is grateful to the many donors who have helped to build the collection over the years and to the private collectors who lent their treasures for this show. Special thanks go to Professor Emeritus Roald Hoffmann, and to Liz Emrich and Adrienne Lam for their contributions to the content of the exhibition.
Chief Curator and Curator of Asian Art