Fall's ceramic finds fire up auction
By ROBERT YELLIN
for The Japan Times, Aug. 28, 1999
Click here for another story on Shinwa Art Auction (lots of photos)
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The summer drought of pottery exhibitions is slowly ending and the wonderful autumn season, so full of good exhibitions, is about to start. Come September, exhibitions too numerous to list will fill gallery spaces throughout Japan and pottery enthusiasts will have their hands full -- with a few good pots, I hope.
For those interested in collecting Japanese pottery there are numerous ways to get started. My first purchase ever, in 1985, was a small 100 yen vase at my local supermarket, during one of their bargain sales. Then I started to haunt the recycle centers and antique markets, and although the pickings were slim I have found some winners: an Edo Period large Seto chatsubo (tea leaf jar) and a Fujiwara Ken Bizen kabin (vase), as well as a few odds and ends like hashioki (chopstick rests), yunomi (tea mugs) and some good chadansu (tea chests) for display.
Next I visited museums, galleries, bookstores and the potters' workshops, always observing much more than spealing. After I had gained a little confidence, I started dabbling in small auctions that offer contemporary ceramists' pieces, often below department store exhibition prices. I'll take a bargain on Japanese pottery any day!
SHINWA ART AUCTION
Chuo-ku, Tokyo, 104-0061
In Japan: TEL 03-5250-0005
After the bubble years, a few larger houses got into the game and one of the more successful auctions is the Shinwa Art Auction, which features contemporary pottery four times a year. Their next auction takes place Sept. 14, 1999. (Click here for review of auction in 2001.) As at a recycle center, there are few bargains to be found, but Shinwa does offer pieces at prices considerably below what department stores charge. The downside is that although a piece may be by some famous ceramist, the quality does vary; kiln unloadings (kamadashi) by even the most seasoned veterans may yield unsuccessful pieces.
About 20 percent make it to an exhibition, with the rest going to galleries, or being broken and thrown away, or given away as freebies with a purchase. Just because it's a Hamada Shoji doesn't mean a piece is something to do a song and dance about. There are some works by "names" that I wouldn't buy or take for free, they're that inferior.
This time around Shinwa is offering 208 lots, with pieces by the likes of Tokuro Kato, Rosanjin, Hamada, Tomimoto and Shimaoka; all in all, 60 ceramists works will be put under the hammer, if you'll pardon the expression.
In terms of numbers, Hamada's work leads the pack with 38 lots offered; some are good, like lot 126: a massive charger that has a spontaneous black drip glaze (a technique that Hamada excelled at) forming a square over a white glaze; inside the square Hamada has painted a sugar millet. Lot 117, a small brush stand, isn't bad either with its red overglaze enamel designs that Hamada learned in Okinawa.
Some should have been left in the closet, though, like lot 99, one of the most pathetic Hamada plates I've ever seen. It does have the sugar millet motif that Hamada is known for, but so what when the whole balance, coloring, and vibrancy of the plate falls flat. Indeed there are many Hamadas in the sale, but no major pieces.
Bargain is a relative word; for these items the prices start around 100,000 yen. If I did have the purchasing power there are a few lots I would love to come home with, like lot 18, a bluish porcelain box by Fukami Sueharu; lot 30, a dynamic Bizen vase by Kakurezaki Ryuichi; lot 163, a Nezumi Shino vase by Okabe Mineo; or lot 167, a small, yet dignified Shino guinomi (sake cup) by Rosanjin -- bids on this little one start at 800,000 yen.
I'm allowed to dream.
Catalogs for the auction are available for 3,000 yen from Shinwa at (03) 3289-8480, fax (03) 3289-8418. Previews allowed on Sept.13-14 and special previews before that by contacting Shinwa. The auction begins at 5 p.m. Sept. 14, 1999.
Japan Art Auction (JAA)
Another smaller auction house is Japan Art Auction (JAA); more information can be had by contacting them at (03) 3574-6543. I've picked up some real bargains there.
I've never really been a big fan of porcelain. The smoothness and calculated perfection always pale in my eye compared to shizen-yu (natural ash-glaze) ceramics.
The Japan Times: Aug. 28, 1999
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For more on the Shinwa Art Auction (plus lots of photos), please click here.