Published: April 16, 2002
NEW YORK CITY – In a major two-part exhibition, “,” on view concurrently at Japan Society and the Asia Society and Museum through May 19, visitors will encounter the vital art and experience of the contemporary Japanese tea ceremony — also known as the Way of Tea.
The practice and arts of the Way of Tea, with origins in East Asia, form a tradition that has evolved over centuries in Japan. The culmination of this tradition is a venerated cultural form that integrates art, architecture and design in a unique, communal event centered on aesthetic and spiritual contemplation.
The exhibition features seven teahouses installed in both venues, representing the finest expressions of traditional and contemporary designs by leading artists, designers and architects from Japan, China and Korea. In addition, some 100 utensils designed by Japanese and non-Japanese artists and selected by Seizo Hayashiya, Japan’s leading scholar of the practice and art of tea, are on view.
The exhibition is the first in the United States to introduce the contemporary interpretation of the Way of Tea. Japan Society Gallery and the Asia Society and Museum are the sole venues for the exhibition.
” offers an extraordinary experience of the contemporary cultural ideas and practices that are evolving from the centuries-old tradition of innovation and aesthetic play in tea,” explains Alexandra Munroe, director of Japan Society Gallery. “The exhibition’s roster of architects, designers and artists includes the most creative and eminent masters working today.”
The exhibition was organized by Masakazu Izumi, second son of Soshitsu Sen, the 15th grand master of the Urasenke School of Tea, and director of International Chado Culture Foundation. Izumi also selected the utensils with Dr Hayashiya. The preeminent architect Atsushi Kitagawara created the overall installation design.
A team of advisers representing some of the most distinguished Japanese tea masters, craftsmen, artists and architects also contributed to the exhibition. A full program of tea performances, lectures and demonstrations accompany the exhibition, as does a catalog.
According to historical tradition, the drinking of powdered green tea was introduced from China to Japan in the late Twelfth Century by the monk Eisai, the founder of Japan’s Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. Under the influence of the great tea master Sen Rikyu in the late Sixteenth Century, tea practice rose to the fore as a pastime and pursuit of both the military elite and the aristocracy.
By the mid-Seventeenth Century, the art form had evolved into a highly ritualized event, in which every element — the manner in which people gathered, every piece of equipment, even the way in which participants entered the tearoom — took on a profound significance.
Since its inception, the Way of Tea has embraced an eclectic range of artifacts from other Asian cultures and in the exhibition at Japan Society and Asia Society, this pluralistic aspect of the practice is featured, emphasizing the universal nature of the experience for the participant — an experience that is said to enhance self-discipline, mental harmony and tranquility.
The Way of Tea also has traditionally included many different forms of art — architecture, garden design, painting, flower arranging and innovative designs in ceramics, lacquerware, bamboo and metal — in a single performative event. All of these art forms are incorporated into “.”
Japan Society Gallery – Part 1
The first part of the exhibition, at Japan Society Gallery, includes three teahouses, a gallery of superb tea utensils and fusuma paintings. The teahouse include a reproduction of Konnichi-an, the Seventeenth Century teahouse designated an Important Cultural Property on the grounds of Urasenke I Kyoto.
This quintessential teahouse form, which embodies traditional concepts of materials and space, serves as a reference for the exhibition’s examples of architectural innovation. It is juxtaposed with a contemporary teahouse in the form of a single lacquered cube designed by Toshiyuki Kita, a leading industrial designer.
A third tearoom, designed by preeminent architect Masayuki Kurokawa for “,” features rice paper furniture illuminated from within, created for seated tea gatherings. This space is used for tea demonstrations.
The first gallery, designed by Atsushi Kitagawara, is devoted to showcasing approximately 60 superb tea utensils of ceramic, lacquer and bamboo in three period groupings: contemporary, modern and Momoyama (late Sixteenth Century).
These objects are on loan from private and public collections in Japan and include such well-known pieces as Hon’ami Koetsu’s teabowl Ofuku (“Great Blessing”) and the Shino ware teabowl Nokiba (“Eave Edge”).
A complete series of fusuma paintings by Hiroshi Senju, commissioned by the subtemple Juko-in of Daitoku-ji temple for installation in its Shizuoka Prefecture branch temple, are also on view, marking the first and only time that this historic commission of 80 running meters of a single painting composition will be exhibited prior to its permanent installation. (The branch temple was designed by Junzo Yoshimura, the modern architect who also designed the Japan Society’s building on East 47th Street).
Asia Society Museum – Part II
The second part of the exhibition at the Asian Society Museum features one tea space and four teahouses of contemporary design, including two commissioned works: one by Wenda Gu and one by Jae Eun Choi. The exhibition’s design has been conceived by renowned designer Atsushi Kitagawara, who has created an environment that suggests the way of tea through an abstraction of the traditional notion of the pathway to the teahouse (roji).
Kitagawara’s innovative concept of the roji features a tunnel made from rice paper at the entrance to the exhibition. The tea space by installation artist Wenda Gu contains a tea powder cube and structures composed of rice paper dyed with tea leaves — a reference to the artist’s well-known installation works composed of human hair from around the globe. The paper, produced by a rice paper factory in China, emits the fragrance of tea.
The first teahouse, designed by Jae Eun Choi, a Korean artist who resides in Japan, is composed of Plexiglas and sand. Jae Eun Choi is known for her installation works that draw on traditional garden design and ikebana.
A second teahouse, designed by Atsushi Kitagawara and made of wood, Plexiglas and wire, offers a radical interpretation of traditional form, space and materials. The third, by interior designer Takashi Sugimoto, uses traditional Japanese design elements and rich textures that reflect the natural environment of tea aesthetics and practice.
The fourth teahouse, by the late Ikko Tanaka, a national award-winning designer, is made of wood with a long cherry wood table and serves as the location for tea demonstrations during the exhibition.
The exhibition at the Asia Society also features components of Hiroshi Senju’s fusuma painting series for Daitoku-ji, providing one of several visual links between the two presentations. Utensils on display at the Asia Society Museum include examples in ceramic, lacquer, bamboo and metalwork by contemporary Japanese and non-Japanese artists and designers, as well as work in new materials such as plastics and glass.
About Japan Society
Japan Society, founded in 1907, is an American institution with individual and corporate members, that promotes understanding and enlightened relations between the United States and Japan. It is a private, nonprofit, nonpolitical organization devoted to cultural, educational and public affairs and to discussions, exchanges and research in areas of vital interest to both countries. The society provides informative, innovative programming that is often available nowhere else in the country.
Japan Society Gallery has been a preeminent international venue for exhibition of traditional and contemporary Japanese and East Asian art since its founding in 1971. The gallery is recognized as one of the most innovative cultural institutions in New York with an unwavering commitment to presenting exhibitions and programs that expand the frontiers of Japanese and East Asian art. In 2001, Japan Society Gallery won first prize for “best museum show originating in New York” from the International Art Critics Association for “YES Yoko Ono,” a major retrospective that is currently touring six venues in North America.
The Asia Society is America’s leading institution dedicated to fostering understanding of Asia and communication between the Americans and the peoples of Asia and the Pacific. A nonprofit, nonpartisan educational institution, the Asia Society presents a wide range of programs including major art exhibitions, performances, media programs, international conferences and lectures and initiatives to improve elementary and secondary education about Asia.
The Asia Society is headquartered in New York City, with regional centers in Washington, D.C. Houston, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and Melbourne, Australia, and representative offices in San Francisco, Manila and Shanghai.
In New York, the society is at 725 Park Avenue. For information, 212-288-6400 or www.asiasociety.org. Hours are Tuesday to Sunday, 11 am to 6 pm, with extended evening hours Fridays until 9 pm. The Japan Society is at 333 East 47th Street, between First and Second Avenues. For information, 212-832-1155 or www.japansociety.org. Hours are Tuesday to Friday, 11 am to 6 pm, Saturday and Sunday, 11 am to 5 pm.
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