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Turning Point: Oribe and the Arts of Sixteenth-Century Japan

October 21, 2003–January 11, 2004

Furuta Oribe and Oribe Ceramics

Born in 1543 or 1544, about the same time as the first arrival of Portuguese merchants in Japan, Furuta Oribe worked closely with the principal characters who shaped the political and artistic climate of sixteenth-century Japan. Like many other warlords of the time, he cultivated a keen interest in the tea ceremony, and in the vacuum created by his mentor Rikyu's death, Oribe's name became increasingly associated with tea. Rikyu had already begun to move away from dependence on Chinese and Korean tea utensils, preferring Japan's indigenous products. Oribe went a step further, intentionally cultivating the beauty of the imperfect. With its enormous cracks resulting from several weeks of firing at a high temperature, the famous water jar from the Iga kiln nicknamed "Burst Pouch," an Important Cultural Property in the Gotoh Museum, Tokyo, was considered by Oribe as a vessel endowed with a unique beauty.

Oribe ceramics—more than one hundred of the finest examples of which are assembled for the first time in this exhibition—made a sudden appearance in the late sixteenth century. Never had so many different vessel shapes and brilliant glazes been attempted, and the uninhibited designs, both naturalistic and abstract, are strikingly "modern." The thick glazes, in deep vitreous green, warm pink, or coal black, combined with a seemingly artless and playful decoration, create what an eighteenth-century observer described as an object not unlike that made by a child. Oribe's liking for accidentally warped or damaged vessels may have led to the willful distortion that characterizes many Oribe teabowls, such as the well-known clog-shaped tea bowls. Other Oribe ceramics display clearly Western influences, as seen in the carracks depicted on a lidded dish and the set of five dishes in the shape of stemmed glassware, which are included in the exhibition. A featured selection of Oribe-type ceramics produced in the Seto area, south of Mino in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries illustrates the renewed energy of Mino potters who attempted a revival of this singularly innovative era in the history of Japan's ceramic industry.