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Ibaraki Prefecture Ceramic Art Museum in Kasama

for The Japan Times, May 13, 2000

Celebrating the cream of Japanese pottery
Inaugural Exhibition of New Musuem (April 2000)

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Wada MorihiroKuriki TatsusukeShigematsu Ayumi

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Believe it or not, a new museum has opened in Japan. In the midst of hearing about this or that institution shutting its doors for good it's refreshing to hear of one opening its doors for the first time, especially one entirely devoted to pottery.

The Ibaraki Prefecture Ceramic Art Museum in Kasama is a sleek, stylish building that had its first visitor ever April 15. Wanting to impress this distinguished person, and the rest of us as well, the curators have put together two inaugural exhibitions: One is a sweeping look at all 27 Living National Treasure potters ("Ningen Kokuho Ten") and the other a closeup encounter with 40 contemporary potters of Ibaraki ("Ibaraki To no Ima").

The Japanese government, alarmed at watching traditional techniques fall by the wayside in the mid-20th century, decided to pass a law for the preservation of cultural assets in 1950. In 1952, the government designated certain craft techniques as Intangible Cultural Properties and in 1955 it appointed outstanding artisans as Holders of Important Intangible Cultural Properties, or, as we commonly call them today, Living National Treasures.

It is common enough to see exhibitions focusing on the work of one or two of these giants, yet never before has an exhibition spotlighted all of this illustrious group under one roof, the museum says. Works are on loan from museums all over Japan, particularly the Tokyo and Kyoto National Museums, as well as from private collections, for a total of 200 masterpieces on display -- quite  extraordinary.

The LNTs are split into two groups, shown in different rooms. Color and design is the theme for the first group (14), tradition and inheritance for the second (13). Of the 27, 14 have passed on (wonder why they're still called Living National Treasures?) and 13 are still spinning the wheel. The earliest work on display is a sometsuke (underglaze blue) painted plate done by Kenkichi Tomimoto in 1933, while the most recent works are less than a year old: colorful Yasokichi Tokuda III, sturdy Tatsuzo Shimaoka and sencha-oriented Jozan Yamada III. (Please visit the Living National Treasures Photo Tour Page)

Quite a few of the potters in the tradition-and-inheritance group come from old potting families and were responsible for reviving their respective styles in the 1920s and 1930s. These include Bizen's Toyo Kaneshige, Mino's Toyozo Arakawa, Hagi's Kyusetsu Miwa and Karatsu's Muan Nakazato. Without question, the current success of all of these traditional kiln areas is due to the sweat and toil of these potters; each has eight pieces on display. Standouts are Kaneshige's "Winter Moon" plate (1953) and Arakawa's hi-iro (fire color) Shino chawan, which is named Plum Inn (1976).

The complete list of LNTs and the style that got each his recognition is shown here.

Ibaraki does have a potting tradition of its own, especially in Kasama, which dates back to the middle Edo Period, and within the prefecture these days close to 400 potters keep their kilns aglow. Yet unlike Hagi or Shigaraki, where potters throw pots in a consistent style, Ibaraki has an unrestricted freedom that allows potters to follow their own muses. We see all kinds of forms here,  ranging from the ceramic suitcases and clothing of Chika Ito to large outdoor installations like that of Tsuyoshi Shima's Gothic pillars or Taku Inomoto's cylindrical stairwells.

Some of the pieces are quite thought provoking and could even be called disturbing. Take, for example, Takashi Komine's large spiked cluster form; one isn't quite sure if it's a crustacean or a jagged  image from a persecuted mind. Its tension pulls at the heart of the viewer. Of course there are eloquent functional forms, like the cheesecloth-impressed Rinpa-style painted platters and bowls of Motohiko Ito and the floral neriage jars of Koyo Matsui.

In any case, Kasama is a place for some powerful pottery. Don't miss the work by Masayuki Inoue and Morihiro Wada. This special exhibition is the place to catch an eyefull of it all.

"Ningen Kokuho Ten" until June 18; "Ibaraki To no Ima" until July 2. Admission 800 yen, 600 yen for college or high school students, 300 yen for junior high and elementary school students. Closed Monday. For information, call (0296) 70-0011.

Still one more new museum, the Fourth Museum, has opened its doors in Toyama Prefecture. Their millennium opening exhibition is titled "Modern Japanese Ceramics" and also features a look at the works of 13 ningen kokuho and many other talented potters including Kazu Yamada (also showing in Osaka at Nanba Takashimaya until May 16), Nakamura Takuo and Fukami Sueharu.

Until July 27 at Fourth Museum, 56-2 Kasuga, Osawa-no-machi, Kami-Niikawa-gun, Toyama. Call (0764) 67-5550 for additional information.

The Japan Times: May 13, 2000
(C) All  rights reserved

Click here for Photo Tour of Museum's 2000 Exhibition

Click here for 2003 Photo Tour of Museum Exhibition.
Click here for 2003 commentary on Museum Exhibition.


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