The Walters Art Museum is currently showing a special exhibit of contemporary Japanese ceramics. I feel sort of the same way about ceramics as I do about textiles. I love the infinite range of textures they carry. They seem to invite touch both in their making and in their appreciation. Which makes visiting textile museums and ceramics exhibits a little bit of an exercise in frustration. I always want to touch these pieces.
The Walter’s current exhibit showcases the variety of approaches, processes, and aesthetics that define (or refuse to define) contemporary Japanese ceramics. I was drawn to many of the exhibit’s more organic pieces, those influenced by natural shapes and textures.
These you almost do not need to touch in order to engage in a tactile sensory experience.
Even the piece below, which plays on more traditional motifs, has a distinctly tactile quality in the organic shape of its handle.
The exhibit does a good job of contextualizing these pieces in the tradition of Japanese ceramics and floral arranging, and in providing insight into the philosophical values with which they engage.
“Objects that express the wabi aesthetic are irregular, rustic, and tinged with sadness….” one of the display plaques explains. How lovely and unexpected and true that feels, that tinge of sadness.
The curators have also given us a sense of artistic interplay: the exhibit is layered with haikus and luminous painted screens, the vases sometimes anchored in the context of interior decor and domestic display.
This is a fascinating glimpse into how dynamic contemporary Japanese ceramics are; both the radical reinvention of the vase in contemporary work, and the vibrant interconnections between art forms and traditions.
“Designed for Flowers” at the Walters closes on Sunday. If you’re able to, I highly recommend going. And even if not, there’s lots more to learn on the museum’s website.