At MAD, A Plain Bowl By Toshio Ōhi Is On Japan’s Cutting Edge

THE DAILY PIC: As a piece of "relational ceramics", it's about how it came to be.


THE DAILY PIC (#1481): This plain black bowl belongs to an exotic new category in fine craft: “Relational Ceramics.” That may come as a surprise even to the person who made it, Toshio Ōhi, an 11th-generation ceramicist who works in the Japanese craft tradition known as kogei, which emphasizes established techniques and materials. A few craftspeople from that tradition’s slender cutting edge are the subject of “Japanese Kōgei: Future Forward”, now at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York.

While some of the other artists in the show make far more showily innovative objects, Ōhi’s bowl is more profoundly new than any of those. That’s because it wasn’t made in Japan but in the ancient pottery center at Jingdezhen, China, where Ōhi worked with local materials and tools rather than the Japanese ones you’d expect with kogei.

The MAD show also includes another Ōhi bowl made using Native American methods, which he perfected under the guidance of the Indian potter Rosemary Lonewolf. Ōhi met her in the United States, on one of the many trips he makes to spread news of his ancient techniques and sometimes to absorb the techniques of other artisans.

A wall text at MAD refers to “the performative way in which he goes about his work: creating dialogue, traveling the world, making pots in public, giving workshops, and generally sharing his creative time.” His bowls, that is, aren’t so much about what they look like as about the network of social relations that brought them to life, and the ambassadorial role that they play. The utter plainness of the Daily Pic’s black bowl may stand for that role: It is an empty vessel waiting to be filled with any number of meanings, as it crosses over between cultures. (Photo by Butcher Walsh, courtesy the Museum of Arts and Design)

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