If stories energize objects, and if clay is a key material in creating Japanese objects, then the clay medium has become more powerful than ever before. On the occasion of Asia Week New York, I visited Dai Ichi Arts Gallery and its current exhibition, Future Forms: Avant-Garde Sculpture in Japanese Ceramics. Curated by the Gallery’s Director, Beatrice Chang, this group show consists of contemporary sculptures, mostly by female artists. Each is handcrafted, each is inventive, each tells the personal story of the craftspeople who created it. The stories bring these objects to life, empowering them with dimensions beyond the aesthetic.
In the show we meet Hiruma Kazuyo (b. 1947), whose training as a graphic designer is clearly demonstrated in her technique. She layers thin sheets of clay horizontally or vertically for months before glazing and firing the sculptures. Matsuda Yuriko (b. 1943) works in the tradition of American Pop Art, creating whimsical works and representing local culture and daily themes in colorful richness. She uses porcelain and enamel glaze. I loved the way she presents Mount Fuji as a vibrant, childish representation of nature. Ayumi Shigematsu (b. 1958) is part of the vanguard generation of highly influential post-war female artists in Japan whose practices are inspired by concepts of female sexuality. Her sculptural forms are influenced by 1970s glamor aesthetics, and her complex forms are created by hand. I found the work of Shingu Sayaka (b. 1979) stunning, and conceptually unique. In her flower series, she recreated cut flowers in black, white, and gray, which gives the colorful flowers a sense of abstraction and calm that is so central to the Japanese experience.
The presentation by Chang brought us into the reality of Japanese clay art, which has its moment. It is the story of artists who have been trained in the tradition of pottery, but who are on an eternal journey to reinvent the medium, and by that, becoming players in the world of contemoprary art.