Zen garden: Takashi Murakami brings a selection of Japanese ceramics to LA

Zen garden: Takashi Murakami brings a selection of Japanese ceramics to LA

If fandom is divided into those who share their affections and those who guard them, a ceramics exhibition curated by the artist Takashi Murakami comes down in favor of generous avidity. Extending the almost riotous enthusiasm in Murakami’s own work, the more than 400 pieces in clay at Blum & Poe in Los Angeles are displayed in a meandering density that recalls the principles of Japanese rock gardens, with no single sightline to every work. On circular rough-wood shelves and on mounds of grass and rubble, the selection by Murakami is at once overflowing and precise, with a muted natural palette that reflects the artists’ studios in rural Japan. Murakami’s ceramics gallery in Tokyo, Oz Zingaro, is a place of respite in a shopping mall filled with stores selling rare comics, toys and memorabilia, and this exhibition, too, is a reminder of the striking coexistence of traditional techniques with post-war strains of popular culture.

’I think work from the 1600s is the most beautiful, the work I respect the most,’ says Kazunori Hamana, who was himself a collector of antiques and now works from an oceanfront studio in Chiba, Japan, catching fish ’every morning.’ ’I can’t compete, so I try to make my own style,’ he says of vessels that manage to elude the brittleness of earthenware and evoke the shore, appearing almost soft in their unctuous forms and slip-covered surfaces, which he then sometimes etches with scribbles.

Other pieces, by Otani Workshop and Yuji Ueda, some shown outside of Japan for the first time, are made in the ceramics center of Shigaraki, the birthplace of many of the country’s prevalent Tanuki statues, guarding the entrances to bars. The zoomorphic Otani Workshop pieces - with faces at once simple and vulnerable in their cuteness - present different scales of empathy, a ceiling-height figure gazing over smaller effigies that seem to require as much protection as they offer. And in spherical work by Ueda, who comes from a family of tea farmers, cracked-earth textures and fire-licked spots are both elemental and experimental. ’Fire is nature, and maybe you lose everything,’ Hamana says of pushing forward the long tradition of earth and water, hardened by heat. ’Or maybe you get something back.’

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