The Gardiner Museum is focusing on Japan in 2018. In the Museum's lobby over the course of the year, three linked displays form an exhibition celebrating thirty outstanding contemporary Japanese artists.

Japan Now gives an unparalleled opportunity for Canadians to see the latest work being produced today by Japanese artists, at a time when Japanese clay is experiencing one of the richest and most diverse periods of its history.

Since the mid-twentieth century, Japan has played a starring role in the development of contemporary ceramic art. Japan's post-war global engagement gave its artists unprecedented access to Western trends. These influences, combined with the technical mastery and centuries-old tradition of Japanese ceramics, resulted in an enormously expanded vision for clay's potential.

The outcome has been a spectacular array of styles and artistic vision. Masters of their medium, leading Japanese ceramicists continue to confront tradition while exposing the very nature of clay in arresting ways that challenge its limitations, or defy them altogether. These artists are in constant dialogue with the past, never deaf to historical precedent, but ever mindful of the dichotomy between tradition and modernity.

The intent of this three-part exhibition at the Gardiner Museum is to offer an intriguing and exciting glimpse into the diverse clay culture. Each separate show has a different theme. The first, Japan Now: Form + Function, features vessels created for use with floral displays or referring, sometimes rather loosely, to that function (Fig. 1). As Japanese ceramics have evolved through the centuries, form has always played the central role in their aesthetics. Potters have developed new shapes and techniques based on indigenous regional styles or ancient prototypes, or inspired by Korean, Chinese, or Western sources. Nakamura Takuo is perhaps the most radical of the artists featured in this display (Cover image). He deconstructs his "vessel" as two standing pleated elements which, when combined, can surround or be integrated in many permutations. The final "form" reflects interplay between the artist and the owner.

The second show, Japan Now: Surface, presents a selection of works that exemplifies the remarkable range of surface treatments used by Japanese ceramicists today. Japanese ceramics are intended to be seen close up, revealing the physical attrivutes that lie at the heart of their aesthetics. Surface effects, whether occurring naturally through wood firing, textured by carving or impression, or decorated by the application of glazes or other techniques, are typically regarded as defining these works. Monolith, a new creation by renowned ceramicist Kondō Takahiro illustrates this concept (Fig. 2). The carved, marbleized, porcelain and glass sculpture features his signature overglaze "silver mist" (gintekisai), incorporating silver, gold, and platinum droplets to represent "water born out of fire."(http://www.kondo-kyoto.com)

Finally, the third display, Japan Now: Female Masters, explores the work done by pioneering female artists, who have been at the vanguard of Japanese ceramics for the past twenty years. For centuries women were excluded from the all-male apprenticeship system; from making ceramic vessels; or even participating in their firing. In the post-war era, women broke free from gender-specific obstacles to attend university and professional ceramic schools. Today, female masters are the equals of their male contemporaries both as luminaries and as independent creative talents. With their owne sensibilities and without ties to specific regional or familial ceramic traditions, these women have raised their nation's ceramic arts to an entirely new level. The work of Fujikasa Satoko exemplifies this creative dynamism (Fig. 3). Her fluid sculptures are handbuilt, using the tehineri technique, where slender coils of clay are blended together, requiring months of work. The extraordinary thinness of the clay and the pinching and pulling technique she employs make the final work a race against time and drying.

Japan Now: Form + Function from January 12 to April 22, 2018; Japan Now: Surface from June 7 to September 3, 2018; and Japan Now: Female Masters from September 7, 2018 until January 13, 2019. Gardiner Museum, 111 Queen's Park, Toronto, ON https://gardinermuseum.on.ca. Please see the museum website for dates, hours, and related programs.