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Yasuko Tsuchikane
Cooper Union; BGC Visiting Fellow

“Disentangling the First ‘Global’ Standard of Ceramic Art in Early Postwar Japan”

The medium of ceramics as aesthetic objects has been found across the globe, yet, is also highly localized in its contextualization and standards of evaluation. The increasing complication of this duality emerged in early post-World War II Japan when the mobility of ceramics became accelerated as publicly displayed exhibits through an internationally traveling exhibition and an assemblage of works brought to Japan from abroad, allowing, for the first time, close comparisons among the latest works from different national origins. At no other time in Japan has the discourse on how to evaluate the artistry of ceramics become so intensely contentious and wide-ranging among collectors, critics, artists, and ceramists. One aspect of the background of these contentions originated in Japan’s modernity, when ceramics came to be largely regarded as a self-contained field of visual art practice (beyond the crafts-fine art binary) and as objects endowed with metaphysical status, symbolizing collective identities in association with a framework of a nation-state against the fast-changing world order in culture and politics. Investigating these discourses against selected points of curatorial decisions made by Fujio Koyama (1900-1975), who was in charge of appointing exhibitors and exhibits in these shows, Tsuchikane hopes to shed light on how the course of “internationalization” took place. The process involved a delicate negotiation with what she terms as Japan’s ceramic nationalism through Koyama’s successive involvement with two ceramic art trends of the twentieth-century West: the boom of Chinese Song dynasty porcelains and the emergence of avant-garde ceramic art by Euro-American artists. Koyama was a world-renowned archaeologist of antique Chinese ceramics, who turned out to be an influential cultural policy maker of the Japanese state and a pioneering international ceramic art curator in Japan. The gradual expansion of his territories of interests from Chinese premodern works to those by Pablo Picasso, Lucio Fontana, and Peter Voulkos will be introduced in the context of two exhibitions that Koyama curated in 1951 and 1964.

Thursday, February 25, 12:15–1:15 pm

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Yasuko Tsuchikane is an adjunct assistant professor of art history at the Cooper Union, and she also teaches at Waseda University and Sophia University, Tokyo. She has focused her research on twentieth-century intellectual, socio-political, and ideo-religious discourses on the premodern visual and material cultures of Japan and Asia at large. Her aim is to reposition them in modernity and examine their global complication in various areas that have tended to escape standard art historical investigations, but retain their enduring and changing cultural presence, such as ceramic three-dimensional objects, architectural paintings for religious institutions, and calligraphy. Selected publications include “Picasso as Other: Koyama Fujio and Polemics of Postwar Japanese Ceramics” (Review of Japanese Culture and Society, 2014); “Rescuing Temples and Empowering Art: Naiki Jinzaburō and the Rise of Civic Initiatives in Meiji Kyoto,” in Kyoto Visual Culture in the Early Edo and Meiji Periods: The Arts of Reinvention (Routledge, 2016); and “Defining Modernity in Japanese Sculpture: Two Waves of Italian Impact on Casting Techniques,” in Finding Lost Wax: the Disappearance and Recovery of an Ancient Casting Technique and the Experiments of Medardo Rosso (Brill, 2020). In 2015 and 2016, she served as a fellow at the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures in Norwich, UK. She holds a PhD in art history from Columbia University.


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