Who’d have thought that a once-in-a-lifetime gallery experience would occur in Manhattan this year? Well, it has – and you can experience it month after month – at the Onishi gallery of art in Chelsea. This erstwhile gallery owner does many favors to us in NYC – and to the arts of Japan – and in her new show to demonstrating the wonders of Spanish porcelain.
Her last show, that of Ito Sekisui V, one of 75 national living treasures of Japan, has excellent written all across it. She not only had the Japanese diplomatic community out in full force, perhaps to enjoy the excellent food from Nobu, but she had the Curator of Asian Art at the Met give a talk explaining the mechanics behind the mysteries of this magnificent ceramic art from the island of Sado in Japan.
The secrets are many. And they are the reason why Ito Sekisui was named a national living treasure 15 years ago. They lie in his island’s clays, notably its yellow and red clays – which when fired end up orange and red. Another secret is that his works are never glazed. But the big secret is that this artist keeps evolving – especially after being named a national living treasure. And we saw the latest results of this evolution in the Onishi Gallery’s last show – in three ways. In the first we saw pottery that looks painted, with red and orange flowers appearing on what seems to be a textile surface. As the Met’s curator explained – after spending a week with Japan’s national living treasure – he had rolled the different clays into a kind of Noel roll. He then sliced it and fitted the resulting flower-like images into the black support clay making incredibly artistic shapes – all totally under the artist’s control. Not content with this he then made ceramics – with the safety net of glaze removed – purely with the red and black clays fired outdoors so that the element of chance could play its part. And then beyond that he took clays with the stone of the island embedded and made massive, brutal, wonderfully anarchic and natural sculptural clay creations that are his latest evolution into creativity. This is the wonderfully crazy and logical thing about national living treasures like Ito Sekisui: he’s 73, and feels he must continuously create new techniques, work with new material, and produce new kinds of work.
I saw at the opening that Onishi shows talent of Japanese artists of all ages. Whatever is done here is is local, working with different clays, and working out of different local mythologies. Her reaction was warming to the heart: interested, excited, intrigued. Who knows? perhaps Onishi’s 30 year old artist who I introduced to the Met curator that evening might be a national living treasure in 40 years. All things are possible in Japanese art… why? because the traditions and training and recognition are strong – and its artisans and artists believe fervently in what they are doing – and their feet a firming standing on a grand tradition.
All this makes me impatient for tonight’s opening of Onishi’s show of Spanish porcelains.