Published: December 16, 2003
The genesis of the dramatic stylistic changes in Japanese art during the brief but brilliant Momoyama period (1573-1615) is explored in “Turning Point: Oribe and the Arts of Sixteenth Century Japan” at The Metropolitan Museum of Art through January 11.
The works selected for this exhibition – nearly 200 ceramics, paintings, lacquer ware and textiles from museums and private collections in Japan, Canada and the United States – illustrate the myriad forces that led to the unprecedented innovations in Japanese art and aesthetics in the late Sixteenth Century, a tumultuous period marked by both the struggles of ambitious warlords for control of the long-splintered country and Japan’s first encounter with the West.
The exhibition focuses on Oribe ceramics, a unique ware made for the tea ceremony that is traditionally associated with Furuta Oribe (154¾4-1615), the great warrior and renowned tea master whose bold, imaginative approach to tea aesthetics reflected the unfettered spirit of the time. The dramatic designs, innovative forms and brilliant colors of Oribe ceramics find their counterparts in paintings and decorative arts of the period, evidencing a collaboration among artists never before witnessed in the history of Japanese art.
The exhibition opens with a group of Chinese and Japanese tea utensils favored by the influential tea master Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591), Furuta Oribe’s mentor and predecessor tea master to the ruling shogunate. An imported Chinese stoneware tea bowl and tea caddy and a bronze flower vase, all dating from the Southern Song dynasty in the Thirteenth Century, demonstrate Rikyu’s preference for simple yet elegant objects.
The finely crafted Chinese wares contrast markedly with the tea ceramics produced in Japan at the end of Rikyu’s lifetime at kilns in Mino (modern-day Gifu Prefecture), Furuta Oribe’s native province, which reflect the tastes of the emerging aficionados of tea among the newly powerful merchant class in the capital Kyoto, southwest of Mino. Roughly formed, covered with thick white or gray glazes, and decorated with naturalistic designs, these ceramics represent a new technology introduced to Japan by Korean potters. Especially notable is a square gray Shino dish with the design of a wagtail, an important cultural property in the collection of the Tokyo National Museum.
Also featured in this section are two large groups of recently discovered pottery shards: one excavated from a kiln site in Mino, the major center of ceramics production in the Momoyama period, and the other from the former residence of a ceramics merchant in Kyoto, the primary center of ceramics consumption during the period.
The second section of the exhibition demonstrates the mid-Sixteenth Century impact on all of the arts of Japan’s first encounter with Europeans and Christianity. A rare missal stand and European-style portable cabinet in black lacquer, combining the newly fashionable mother-of-pearl inlay with the traditional maki-e technique of sprinkled gold powder, are examples of objects made by Japanese artisans for export to Europe.
A European-made globe, maps of the world produced both in Europe and in Japan, a Black Oribe tea bowl decorated with the image of a cross in underglaze white and an Oribe ware candlestand in the shape of a European gentleman epitomize the Japanese curiosity about European culture.
The exhibition is organized by Miyeko Murase, special consultant for Japanese art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in collaboration with Jun’ichi Takeuchi, director, University Art Museum, Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music; and Hideaki Furukawa, director, The Museum of Fine Arts, Gifu; with the assistance of Masako Watanabe, senior research associate, the Metropolitan Museum; and Misato Shomura, curator, The Museum of Fine Arts, Gifu. Installation design is by Michael Langely, graphic design is by Sue Koch and lighting design is by Clint Coller and Rich Lichte, all of the museum’s design department. Additional design elements were contributed by Shigeru Uchida, Studio 80, Tokyo.
A variety of educational programs, including lectures and gallery talks, will be offered in conjunction with the exhibition.
Information is available on the museum’s website www.metmuseum.org or by calling 212-570-3710.
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