What is Mino?
Arakawa Toyozo and Kato Tokuro Exhibition
Sano Museum (Mishima), Oct. 8 to Nov. 8, 2004
Takashimaya (Kyoto), Feb. 23 - March 7, 2005
by Robert Yellin and Aoyama Wahei
All Photos by Yellin
I wonder how the two late legendary Momoyama-inspired master potters -- Arakawa Toyozo and Kato Tokuro -- would feel about their current two-man exhibition. It's said they were very competitive rivals and not exactly on speaking terms much of their lives. Whatever the case, we do know the two did meet on occasion and were cordial enough to each other; so much of Kato's life is still shrouded in mystery, while Arakawa was the more open of the two -- more on both artists can be read in the links below.
Different aspects of their personalities certainly show through in their distinctively magnificent Shino, Setoguro, Ki-Seto and other styles that they mastered (see below review by Aoyama Wahei). This unprecedented exhibition features masterpieces from both artists and includes infamous works such as Kato's scandalous "Einin Tsubo" and "Smell of Purple" Shino chawan (both shown in photos below) along with Arakawa's unparalleled Setoguro chawan. All in all, the exhibit features a total of 60 works by Arakawa and 64 by Kato, plus many examples of their calligraphy. Over to you Wahei-san.
<Review by Aoyama Wahei>
We find in Mishima the joint exhibition of two colossal figures, and how easy it is to explain their personas by using the flip sides of a coin. You have Mino's Arakawa Toyozo, the austere master "craftsman," and the simple, quiet, serene aesthetic of a potter who was overtly humble, but somehow lacked the "human" element (or maybe the glamour) that we crave from tabloids. Then you have Seto's Kato Tokuro, the arrogant master "artist," who was bold, boisterous, and more than anything, human. He captivated both fans and non-fans of pottery alike with his thirst for life, prestige and most of all, clay. In other words, Tokuro essentially captured the unabashed human condition. For two legends that reigned from regions of close proximity (and who worked in similar pottery styles), we tend to lean towards differentiating them in the hopes of parsimony: the blatant split would thus mean night and day, sun and moon, heaven and earth.
Although we tend to dwell too heavily on such simplistic stereotypes, a walk down the recent Arakawa / Kato exhibition might actually heighten our preconceptions of the artists and their art. Tokuro's chawans are, to say the least, flamboyant. They are bursting with creativity and innovation, and capture the fact that the artist is aggressively trying to surpass Momoyama wares, rather than being merely content to be on par with them. Arakawa, on the other hand, has a much subtler, rounder, and inward-looking feel as opposed to Kato's bursting of outward self-expression. It will be a misunderstanding, however, to claim that Arakawa's works are Momoyama copies, as his chawan are, as well, a show of self-expression; albeit the self that he is trying to express is far different from Kato. In other words, the difference between the two artists is, sincerely, night and day.
Kato and Arakawa were bitter rivals in life, and never exhibited at the same exhibition. Thus, it may seem ironic that we see them paired posthumously. However, this exhibition is a must-see in the fact that we are allowed to relish the beauty of the two greatest Mino and Seto potters since the Momoyama Period, for all their glory, for all their history, with eyes wide open and with no room for hiding past scars. The exhibition is exhilarating in that we can actually view the epitome of modern scandals: the fraudulent, infamous and brilliant "Einin Tsubo" (see below photo) by Kato and son Mineo (who I promise to write about in a future article), and the "Murasaki-Nioi" Shino chawan (see photos at bottom of page; of this piece, the great collector Shirasu Masako said, "it is a vile thing," while fellow collector Tachihara Masaaki said it was "the essence of Kato's work." Hmm. Glam rock, anyone? Kato's Setoguro chawan named Ginkaku (Silver Pavilion) will sure ring bells with David Bowie's silver spandex from his Ziggy days.
On the other hand, we see the meditative, even philosophical Shino chawan such as Akebono and Satogaeri by Arakawa (which are very much Arakawa, rather than Momoyama relics), and some interesting iro-e (enamel overglaze) tableware, as well as a particular Ki-Seto vase I am fond of, called Shirasagijo (white crane castle; see below photo). Also from Arakawa, we can see many of his unfairly underrated Shuki (sake vessels). Arakawa himself wasn't a drinker, and this fact was famous. Thus, many sake vessel collectors would criticize these wares without actually drinking from them; to be honest, some of Arakawa's guinomi at the exhibition make me hunger for sake, and that is quite enough for me.
I think it is common for many to pick one artist over another as their favorite Shino or Oribe or Ki-Seto or Setoguro artist. I also think that those who visit the exhibition will find themselves siding with either Kato or Arakawa. However, I think that the well-planned exhibition will demonstrate that whether you choose one master over another, you can't go wrong.
by Aoyama Wahei
Please visit our GUIDEBOOK to learn more about above Mino styles, or see the LEARN MORE section below for targeted links about these two artists.
LEARN MORE ABOUT ARAKAWA TOYOZO
LEARN MORE ABOUT KATO TOKURO