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Exhibition showcases both tradition and innovation of Japanese ceramic artists
Kino Satoshi (Japanese, b. 1987), Oroshi (Mountain Gust), 2016. Seihskuji (bluish-white) glaze on porcelain. Collection of Carol and Jeffrey Horvitz.

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA.- A new exhibition explores how tradition – and breaking from it – has influenced the work of 12 Japanese ceramic artists. From perfectly petite turquoise vases to a striking large-scale piece that resembles a human heart, the exhibition shows how artists in the 20th and 21st centuries have embraced traditional techniques with innovative forms and styles.

We Do Not Work Alone: Contemporary Japanese Ceramics is on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg through Sept. 23. The exhibition provides a broad view of Japanese contemporary ceramic art through works from internationally renowned artists. For example, some Japanese ceramic artists in the early 20th century moved away from industrialization and mass production, instead embracing traditional styles and creating works anonymously. After World War II, some artists sought to raise the status of ceramics in Japan to fine art by emphasizing sculptural form. Artists today embrace both tradition and innovation in a number of ways.

“Visitors will find a surprising variety of shape and technique in the works on view in We Do Not Work Alone. Through looking at some key works by these artists, we see how their work is built on centuries of tradition but also breaks away from the norm,” said Stephanie Chill, MFA curatorial assistant and curator of the exhibition. “We are proud to host this beautiful and innovative collection. Some of these pieces were shipped directly to the MFA from Japan by the lenders, which means this is the first time they are being seen in America.”

Some highlights:

• The earliest artist featured is Kawai Kanjirō, who lived from 1890 to 1966. He was among the first practitioners of the mingei movement, a Japanese folk art movement developed in the 1920s and 30s that focused on the beauty and craftsmanship of everyday, functional objects like tea bowls. He described his art as guided by intuition and natural forces.

• Another notable artist in the exhibition is Abe Anjin, who started his career as a painter before moving into pottery. Now in his 80s, he works in a utilitarian style that recalls work done in the late 1500s. Using an innovative method to fire his work, he alternates lower and higher temperatures that can reach 200 degrees higher than other methods, creating the deep, rustic colors of his work.

• The 2017 piece Looking For A Crush, a large red sculpture evocative of a human heart by the artist Kawaura Saki, born in 1987, highlights the innovative explorations of ceramics today.

The exhibition takes its name from Kanjirō’s essay “We Do Not Work Alone,” published posthumously in 1973. In it he examined how artists’ environments, both natural and human-made, inform their work, writing, “We do not work alone. Man can make a bowl of clay… but still it is the fire itself that really completes the bowl.”

We Do Not Work Alone features works on loan from the collection of Carol and Jeffrey Horvitz of Boston. It’s one of the finest and most extensive collections of contemporary Japanese ceramics in the United States.

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