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 Black Pottery Windows (Kokutō no mado)
New Acquisitions: 2016

Black Pottery Windows (Kokutō no mado)

In the impoverished and chaotic years following Japan’s defeat in World War II, the old hierarchies of the Kyoto art world were temporarily suspended. In this atmosphere of hopeful uncertainty, a group of young men took a bold step toward making their mark in the realm of ceramics. They wanted to extract themselves and their work from the rigid expectations for ceramics production held in Kyoto’s Gojōzaka neighborhood—the world to which their fathers belonged. Accordingly, the young artists formed a group that offered mutual support, theoretical discussions, and occasional exhibitions.

Taking the lofty Sinitic name of Sōdeisha (Crawling through Mud Association), this group became a major force in postwar Japanese contemporary ceramics. It remained active until 1998, the fiftieth anniversary of its founding. With the acquisition of this work, the Freer|Sackler represents the three most influential Sōdeisha founders: Yagi Kazuo (1918–1979, S2015.16), Suzuki Osamu (1926–2001, S1997.32, S2015.7), and now, Yamada Hikaru (1923–2001), each of whom devoted his lifetime to interpreting the potential of clay.

Yamada remained associated with the group until he helped decide to disband it nearly two decades ago. His father, Tetsu, had been a Buddhist priest in a small temple in central Japan. Tetsu took up pottery, moved to Kyoto in 1932, and became a protégé of Ishiguro Munemaro (1893–1968, S1987.971–972), a renowned master of Chinese glazes. Yamada went to live with his father in Kyoto in 1943, when he entered the ceramics department of the Kyoto High School of Crafts; he graduated in September 1945.

In a trajectory also seen in the work of Yagi and Suzuki, Yamada’s output shifted over the course of his career from functional vessels to sculptural forms. His earliest exhibition work focused on applying modern decoration to traditional vessels using familiar glazes. In the first Sōdeisha exhibition, for example, held in Osaka in September 1948, Yamada exhibited a black-slipped Cizhou-style jar. Over the next decade, however, he began reinterpreting the vessel’s form, making it increasingly abstract and cubist, angular and asymmetrical. He eventually turned away from the vessel form altogether; instead, he engaged with clay as a sculptural medium, assembling slabs into freestanding shapes that he described as towers or walls or—in examples that he pierced with repetitive openings—windows or screens.

In the 1980s, Yamada adopted two surfaces that eliminated conventional references to clay: a silver glaze and the polished, smoke-infused clay seen in this work. Yagi Kazuo had first used the “black pottery” (kokutō) finish, and Yamada deferred his own experimentation with it until after Yagi’s death. Whereas Yagi’s black pottery was often fleshy and sensuous, Yamada’s black pottery appears graphic and weightless. With their uncanny capacity to move, the small, flat, rectangular windows, set asymmetrically into a black wall, create a miniature architecture. Donor Halsey North described Yamada’s windows as expressing “a sense of expectation as one looks through or into another realm, another dimension.”

Black Pottery Windows (Kokutō no mado)
Yamada Hikaru (1924–2001)
Japan, Kyoto, 1983
Burnished and smoke-infused stoneware
31 x 61 cm
Gift of Halsey and Alice North in honor of David, Lia, William, and Richard Royle

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