Thursday, August 25, 2022
Monday, January 31, 2022
Imagine … It's early 1924. Furuta Oribe XII's 20-something only son, Oribe xiii, is deep into an early midlife crisis. Life as an heir apparent is not cutting it. Endlessly attending and holding those stuffy tea gatherings every time a cherry blossom petal takes to wind or a maple leaf blushes. He's full-up-to-here with the pretentiousness of emptiness, with a capital "EMPTY".Besides, no one sits seiza anymore.
His family's legacy of quirky ceramics and interior design, so beloved by generations of aesthetes of yore, has not transitioned into the new social economy. The Western hungry ghosts have insatiable appetites for Japanese oldies-but-goodies Chinoiserie knock-offs. The nouveau riche industrialists are good to go 24/7 with assembly line versions of his great-great-great-etc. granddaddy's classics, but the output is so much vulgar stuttering, diluting the genius of spontaneity. They think a whack of a paddle, a swish of brown slip and a splat of green glaze and … a masterpiece. Ha!
Very soon he'll be installed with full rights as Mr. XIII. This will mean managing and supporting the dreary household staff. It's not his cup of tea.
Wriggling out of the nijiriguchi, he hangs up the "Sorry We Missed You!" sign on the roji gate and heads for the sento. In the genkan, the front page of the morning's shinbun blasts an editorial about the decline of morals of youth due to a dangerous and growing sense of individualism among the intelligentsia. Women are cutting their hair short, exposing their skin in public, and men are wearing unisex fashion. There's a notice about a group of artists who are staging an art show and poetry reading at a café in support of a petition for more affordable housing. Another about the round-up of students hanging out at that same joint.
Slipping into his new brown hounds-tooth Jodhpur, cream mohair jacket and forest green leather boots, he headsshitamachi to find that little café. His soul is dry. And he's very thirsty. Thirsty for a fresh look at the world.
Consider what might transpire if xiii had met the modernists of his own time, Picasso for sure … But this fantasy must serve this review, so he meets Murayama Tomoyoshi and his band of merry Taisho pranksters, the artists of the Mavo movement.
Turning Point is the long awaited book on about the impact of Momoyama generalissimo chajin Furuta Oribe on Japanese aesthetics. Hideaki Furukawa, the director of The Museum of Fine Arts in Gifu, offers in its early pages, "The impulse to challenge and defy convention could be called the defining theme of Japan's Momoyama period. 'Oribe' neatly captures this sprit of creative nonconformity…" The Oribe book made its debut in sync with the block-buster one-stop exhibition of the same name held at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art staged at the end of 2003 through early 2004.
Weisenfeld's dense opus, Mavo, is a chronicle of the activities, inspirations and impact of Mavo, the Japanese sociopolitical aesthetic movement dated 1905 - 1931. It primarily focuses on Murayama Tomoyoshi, the movement's mastermind, who seemed to have a whole lot of fun stirring up the already turbulent Taisho status quo, with a capital Quo. While a bit dense to casually, the narrative would serve very well if complementing an exhibition.
"Mavo was a self-proclaimed avant-garde constellation of artists and writers collaborating in a dynamic and rebellious movement that not only shook up the art establishment, but also made an indelible imprint on the art criticism of the period," she outlines.
Rigorous narratives supported by copious illustrations fill these two volumes. By re- and de-constructing reputations, myths and the physical remnants of the times, they address philosophy and production of art in a multitude of methods -- from clay and oil painting and sculpture, to architecture, theatre and the mass media. They also give us images of how Japan deals with errant aesthetes.
During each period, evolutions of artistic styles were inseparable from developments in Japanese enterprise, hegemony and industrialization, mass consumer culture, and social order. Bookending three centuries of isolationism, it may be argued that the volumes under consideration reflect "modernist" trends within its own time period, providing an interesting spectrum from which to explore the premise of Vlastos' book Mirror of Modernity: Invented Traditions of Modern Japan. (See accompanying review "I Am Therefore …")
"Artists are too often omitted from sociopolitical studies [of the Japanese intelligentsia], here they gain their rightful place in the debates of the early twentieth century. Including those who dealt with art: educators, bureaucrats, dealers, collectors and publishers," notes Weisenfeld.
As an exhibition catalog, Turning Point is a font of illustrations of stunning dogu for chanoyu. It also contains generous helpings of mind -candy about the who / how / huh of Oribe. In addition, it offers literary works, screen painting and even Portuguese maps and diaries. Each points to Oribe's impact as a major "player" in volatile and changing political, social and cultural landscapes of his time … and now.
A major focus of the book and exhibition is the new archeological scholarship being undertaken at historic Seto kiln sites. Sifting through household waste and layers of potsherds, they are documenting the popularity and mass production of Oribe-ness. What is lacking in both book and exhibition is a sampling of today's Oribe-ish ephemera such as plastic sushi bar shoyu dishes. Do I ask too much?
The editor states, "During the era of Oribe, a common aesthetic language bound all the visual arts more strongly than any other time in Japan before or since, and intimate working relationships existed among artists in different media." Until the advent of Mavo, perhaps.
Like the French impressionists in the late 19th century, Murayama and his avant-garde cronies took on the gadan (art establishment) of their time, unabashedly challenging conventional taste and social norms. And like Oribe, Murayama was charismatic and drew tremendous inspiration from his collaborations with others.
Where Oribe's jazzy naturalistic designs were to be "seen" mostly dimly lit tea rooms set to promote harmony and tranquilly, purity and respect, Mavo was a brash, in-your-face under- and-above-ground collective tour de force affront to the bitter reality of life Meiji / Taisho.
The origin and significance of the "Mavo" name itself seems to be contested among the group members. The most widely disseminated story has it coming from a random selection within a collective process with representation of the membership itself. While a hotly disputed conclusion, it proved to be a useful "brand", replete with mystery. The actual composition of "membership" also waxes and wanes with opinions, however scholarly, but consensus contends it fluctuated.
What is quite clear, however, is that they played turned everything upside down and backwards. For example, The "V" in Mavo on their publication covers is mimicked in several of the members' (men and women) hairstyles … or is it vice versa? Like Andy Warhol's "Factory" in New York of the 1960s, the group of young, largely self-trained Mavo men and women spent as much energy promoting its manifesto as making the "art" itself.
"While drawn together because of a 'constructivist inclination,'" states the author, "the Mavo artists did not assert ideological solidarity. Rather, they maintained distinct convictions, respecting each other's personal goals."
On the serious art side, Mavo was deeply imprinted by German Abstract Expressionism and the "happenings" of Dada and other modernist movements in Europe and the USA. Illustrations include architectural designs catering to the lifestyle of the proletariat. Graphic designs for leftist literary works, periodicals and promotional materials for Mavo events incorporated typographic influences of Europe (including classic Germanic script and Hebrew!).
Weisenfeld writes, "They strived to revolutionize the form, function and intent of Japanese art. They aimed to reestablish a connection they felt had been broken in the Meiji period with the codification of autonomous "fine art' based on the Western model … reintegrating art into the social (and political) practice of everyday life."
As a friend living in Japan said, it would take an exhibition in New York or Paris for Furuta Oribe to be publicly claimed by the Japanese as a favorite son in "mixed" (gai and Nihon-jin) company. And then there's Mavo. Can't imagine the French keeping Picasso a secret for 400 years, much less declaring the uniqueness of analytical cubism.
Originally published in Kyoto Journal, May 2004
Friday, September 20, 2019
In fact, typically one doesn't see any of the occupants of a tea hut. I intimacy is the cornerstone of hospitality of a tea gathering.
A chaji, informal tea gathering, can be held just about anywhere one can whisk matcha in hot water and enjoy the company of friends.
Below (left) is the Water Pavilion created for the 1st Los Angeles (City) Public Art Triennial (2016 in Balboa Park) by Rirkrit Tiravanija, for which I produced a weekend of tea demonstrations celebrating the LA River. Right is a photo of my making tea for Eric Lloyd Wright and Mary Wright atop their yet-unfinished home in Malibu overlooking the ocean. (I used the rebars to contain the space.)
Lauren "Sochi" Deutsch has been a LACMA school docent since 2014. She is a licensed instructor of the Urasenke Tradition of Chanoyu and has done many tea demonstrations at schools, colleges and public events. She studied under the late Matsumoto Sosei, sensei beginning in 1985, and also was a guest in Kyoto at the Midorikai program. Lauren is a long-time contributing editor and board member of Kyoto Journal. Professionally, she currently is a free lance grant writer mostly in the arts and environmental issues. In addition to volunteering at LACMA, she is on the Community Advisory Board of Public Media Group of Southern California/KCET and deckhand-in-training for Los Angeles Maritime Institute. More info @ www.pacificrimarts.org. (All photos from the author.)
Sunday, April 21, 2019
Wednesday, April 17, 2019
When it appeared that a chamei, professional name indicating a level of accomplishment (or endurance), would be mine, one evening in okeiko, something like the following transpired:
Tuesday, December 26, 2017
Raku is one of many low-fired ceramic traditions around the world. It has its roots in Ming dynasty three-colored sosansai) wares from Fujian province in China. The tea bowls fashioned by a potter named Chojiro during the Azuchi-Momoyama period in the last 16th century marked the dawn of Raku Ware. There exists little or not detailed documentation of the relationship between Chojiro and Rikyu; however, Chojiro’s independent creative spirit has been preserved thereaafter throughout generations and centuries of the Raku famly. Each new generation has developed his own distinct style, who;e at the same time honoring the timeless traditions and knowledge handed down from father to son for over 430 years.” The current head of the family is the 15th generation. His son Raku Atsundo is quite productive.
Kuroda Shogen 黒田正玄
the fundamental way of tea will die out.
on the contrary, that it is flourishing.
when it becomes completely
a matter of worldly amusement —
is now in sight.
— Sen no Rikyu, 1589 
It is likely that he was considering both the intangible and material aspects of the enterprise that became Cha-do, the Way of Tea. Compare the aesthetics of his tiny, still extant Taian tearoom, dating from 1583,
at Daitokuji in Kyoto and Hideyoshi’s long-gone portable Ogon Chashitsu (golden tearoom), created in 1585 and eventually destroyed in the Osaka Castle fire of 1615. Dare we infer that Rikyu, a Zen monk, was attached to the idea of this “fundamental” chado, not that Way of Tea? Perhaps, but his signature notions of wabi and sabi—well worn, essential, imperfect, quiet, and impermanent objects—has reached us to this day through 16 unbroken generations of Senke Chado practitioners.
The history of chanoyu and its impact on Japan is long and anecdotes abound as a result of practitioners’ keeping meticulous diaries of who came to tea, what dogu were used, the meals served, etc. In 1757, the term iemoto  (grand master) became fixed as a cultural norm for these families. Paul Varley notes, in Tea in Japan: Essays on the History of Chanoyu, two reasons that this system caught on formally. The first, “... a swelling demand for the arts” largely from amateurs practicing chanoyu “as an avocation or who wished to enrich themselves culturally”. Successive generations of iemoto cultivated new, innovative ways to take advantage of Japan’s social, cultural and economic shifts by adjusting the practice, for example by creating procedures requiring formerly never-conceived dogu, such as tables and chairs! Of course, students required more lessons to learn these new ways.
As in the tea schools, the responsibility for carrying on the artisanal traditions have been carefully passed down, usually from father to a son (though currently three holders of lineage are women) chosen for his/her technical mastery of skills, as well as his/her capacity to sustain the lineage by maintaining its material resources. Producing and training an heir, a wakasosho (young master) is essential. In addition to the land on which the workshop stands, the inheritance includes in situ sources of raw materials and caches of those that require long aging periods (e.g. clay, drying timber), proprietary patterns and designs, and notebooks (including records of how and when objects were used), fabrication tools, pattern books, models, molds and equipment (such as forges, looms, etc). Above all, one inherits the relationships along the supply chain and patronage, especially the tea masters themselves.
Japanese art, particularly the traditional forms, were hit particularly hard by bunmei kaika, the all-out Westernization movement of the early Meiji period, and went into a state of creative decline at the end of the 19th century. The new middle class that was moving into cities was hungry for modern life and Western-style art. At the same time, Westerners were mostly only showing interest in the exotic exported Oriental Japonisme.
A note about the Japanese term. I am using Jisshoku as did the Minpaku exhibition. I have also seen it written Jusshoku.
Elmar Schmeisser notes, “One of the very few exceptions may be the Rikyu hyakkaiki (100 lines / phrases, typically dated to 1590) on which [Daniel] Burkus has been working and sharing at http://chanoyu-to-wa.tumblr.com/. The fact that Varley and others write about these sources in ways that obscures their historically problematic nature is something that I have grappled with in my own scholarship on tea history.”
 Outside the Raku Museum there is a stone tablet with "rakuyaki iemoto raku kichizaemon taku" (楽焼家元 楽吉左衛門宅) written on it. Also, Japanese government websites and the recent English language publication by Raku note "楽焼十四代家元、楽吉左衛門" (14th generation iemoto). Yet Morgan Pitelka notes in a private comment: The term “oiemoto” is reserved for the leaders of the large, pyramid shaped arts organizations that have ranks of teachers and pupils, masters and practitioners. "Wakasosho" means young teacher, but in the ten craft families, usually the art is preserved within the lineage, not disseminated through teaching. It's a different organizational model." He notes that "Raku of course avoids [the pyramid shaped system] by monopolizing the practice one generation at a time. ...The only naming conventions in the Raku family that I'm aware of are the title 'Kichizaemon', which is held by the current head of the household, and the retirement name that ends with 'ryu" (e.g. Ichinyu, Sonyu, Sanyu, etc." More about this in his Handmade Culture: Raku Potters, Patrons and Tea Practitioners in Japan. It would be interesting to further explore when the Raku family began to use the term “oiemoto” for the generation “head”. Thanks to Lucinda Cowing for prompting further research.
 Mitsukoshi has been the leader in many modernization efforts to promote capitalism in Japan with a number of Japan's firsts: department store (1904), in-store restaurant (1907), escalator (1914), and fashion show (1927). The Osaka store was opened in 1691; it merged in 2008 with another company and the store closed 2014. "The decision to retreat from Osaka can be seen as Mitsukoshi's epilogue in its story of trying to regain its position as the top department store in Japan."
 Further research about Mitsukoshi and its gallery exhibitions of chadogu has pointed me to the Riseido Gallery which in 1918 - 1941 held "Oriental exhibitions every year at Mitsukoshi stores in Osaka and Tokyo." The Gallery was founded by Tamitsuchi Murakami, a green tea dealer in Hirano-macho, HIgashi-ku Osaka who operated under the trade name Shunchodo. The second generation owner, Tajijiro Murakami, married the daughter of the head clerk at the store and began an art trading company in that neighborhood.