Tuesday: 12:00 – 17:00
Sat & Holidays: 10:00-14:00
Sundays: Groups only
The collection of yunomi presented in the exhibition includes tea cups created by the most renowned potters worldwide. The yunomi – a handle-less teacup – is one of the basic ceramic forms for everyday use in Japan. The stoneware cup absorbs the colour of the tea over time. The imprint of time on these cups endows them with unique virtue and increases their value.
The exhibition comprises cups and bowls from Japan, Great Britain, the United States, Scandinavia and Israel. The focus is on the Japanese wares because they are the source of inspiration for potters throughout the world. Japanese ceramic art had a strong influence on western pottery in the 20th century, and this is evident in an aesthetic approach that emphasizes the qualities of the clay and the firing process, as well as honouring both the ceramic artist.
Japanese pottery developed out of Chinese and Korean influences, and has been directly linked to the tea ceremony since the 13th century. Tea reached Japan from China in the 8th century and was followed by the adoption of the tea ceremony, initially in the monasteries, and later by the aristocracy. The ceremony was characterized by an atmosphere of luxury and elegance, and the porcelain vessels were imported from China specifically for this purpose. However, by the 15th century the tea ceremony had acquired a Japanese aspect – serene and refined – deriving from the spirit of Zen Buddhism.
The tea-masters were among the first to realize the artistic potential of pottery for practical use, as well as its natural unglazed beauty that was so suited to the ceremony. Their interest gave rise to the creation of unglazed stoneware that continued the ancient tradition of vessels originally used for storing foodstuffs – simple and functional, assorting with the new spirit of the tea ceremony simply because they had not been specifically created as works of artistic merit.
Recognition of the potter as an artist embodied a new concept that developed in Japan in the 20th century after the rejection of the traditional arts. Japan’s opening up to the West in 1868 was followed by a wave of industrialization and modernization throughout the country. In this context, ceramic industries were also set up, and the traditional small potteries were shut down. However, handmade porcelain continued to flourish in this era because the popularity of these artifacts in the international trade fairs of the late 19th century encouraged the Japanese government to support the traditional porcelain craftsmen.
The rejection of most of the traditional handicrafts of Japan gave rise to the Mingei movement (mingei: folk art), founded in 1926 by Yanagi Suetsu (1889-1961). The definition ‘folk art’ refers to unsigned works by unknown craftsmen who did not view themselves as artists, and whose works were simple, unsophisticated. These were items intended for mass consumption. The intention of the Mingei movement was to study and document the folk-art tradition, to collect works of folk art, to exhibit them, and to promote their continuation. The movement encouraged craftsmen to return to the traditional methods and to revive those that had been abandoned with the rise of industrial production. Recognizing the craftsmen as the originators of the activity nonetheless conveys an internal rebuff to the ideology of the movement, consecrating the works of these unknown artists, although this did occasion the revival of traditional pottery-making in Japan.
The English potter Bernard Leach (1887-1979), one of the founders of the Mingei movement in Japan, also had a strong influence on attitudes to ceramics in the West. Leach was impressed by the Pre-Raphaelite artists and those of the Arts & Crafts Movement, whose emphasis was on handicraft, and who found the spiritual aspect of creation a more important element than the technology and logic of industry during the industrial revolution. Leach had worked in Japan for several years, and on returning to England he set up a pottery studio with Hamada Shoji and Matsubayashi Tsuneyoshi. He published his “Potter’s Book” in 1940, and it is still considered as the potters’ bible.
After WWII there was a change of attitude towards Japan in the West, and the Japanese aesthetic was recognized as a unique source of artistic tradition. At the same time, Japan’s approach towards its traditional arts also changed. In 1955 the government announced the presentation of a special award for artists in the fields of the traditional performing and visual arts. They were to be endowed with the appellation “Living National Treasure” (LNT), and vowed to maintain their craftsmanship in their specific expertise, to document their work, and to educate young artists. In the exhibition there are 34 yunomi created by Living National Treasures (the initials LNT appear on the labels), representing most of the traditional styles of Japanese ceramics.
The western potters’ works represent different streams of ceramic art. Those of Leach’s pupils and of artists continuing in his tradition in Great Britain and the United States are honorably represented, as are others directly or indirectly influenced by the Japanese. The exhibits certainly present a great variety of styles, but what links all of them is respect for their material and for the creative process.