An exhibition exploring the artistic vision of Toshiko Takaezu will be on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from August 7, 2004 – March 6, 2005. The Poetry of Clay: The Art of Toshiko Takaezu will highlight works from the 1970s to the present with a special focus on her recent explorations in ceramics. A selection of about 20 ceramics with additional works in weaving and bronze will be on view, many on loan from the artist, as well as private collectors. Part of Takaezu’s achievement has been to break down traditional divisions between fine art and craft. Like other American artists of her generation, she challenged preconceptions about ceramic art, eroding the notion that ceramics are necessarily functional and decorative. The exhibition will suggest the range of her achievements, giving emphasis to the shapes, textures, and colors of works that vary in scale from palm-sized pieces to objects over six feet tall. Her pieces are sculptural and painterly, and infused with poetic impulses, often embracing the unforeseen crack or the runaway drip as welcome elements of the overall design. Takaezu employs all of the glazing techniques in a ceramist’s repertory, including brushing, dripping, pouring, dipping, as well as working with her fingers.
Toshiko Takaezu was born in 1922 in Hawaii. She studied ceramics, design and weaving at the University of Hawaii from 1948 to 1951 before enrolling at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. She was especially influenced by the celebrated Finnnish ceramist Maija Grotell, who emphasized the importance of technical skill in achieving artistic expression and believed that ceramics can equal painting in its artistic possibilities. Takaezu, who is of Japanese descent, blends Grotell’s standards of craftsmanship and design with the forms and philosophy of Japanese folk ceramics, which were gaining influence on many young American ceramists of the period. She was also influenced by the Japanese-educated English artist Bernard Leach, author of A Potter’s Book (1940), which contributed to the revival of Japanese and other Asian ceramic traditions in an international context.
"In the mid 1950s," commented Felice Fischer, the Luther W. Brady Curator of Japanese Art and Curator of East Asian Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. "Takaezu embarked on an exploration of her own Japanese heritage during a trip to Japan, where she studied the traditional tea ceremony, lived in a Zen Buddhist temple, and visited renowned Japanese ceramists Hamada Shoji, Kitaoji Rosanjin, and Kaneshige Toyo among others. In the process, Takaezu discovered that what really held resonance for her was not necessarily the pottery itself, but the ineffable aesthetic and philosophy of the East."
Around 1958, Takaezu made a dramatic change in her work: she closed the openings in these useful objects, denying their function and creating the domed columns and spheres for which she has become widely known. Takaezu has explored the expressive potential of these "forms" for more than forty-five years, subtly modifying shape and scale and painting on glazes in infinite variety to produce ceramic sculpture of compelling mood and presence. "You are not an artist simply because you paint or sculpt or make pots that cannot be used. An artist is a poet in his or her own medium," the artist has said. "And when an artist produces a good piece, that work has mystery, an unsaid quality; it is alive."
Takaezu’s work is in numerous public collections, including the Smithsonian Institution, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and National Museum in Bangkok, Thailand. In addition, she has received many honors and awards, among them the Gold Medal of the American Craft Council, being named a Living Treasure of Hawaii, and receiving the Human Treasure Award from the University of North Carolina, as well as several honorary doctorate degrees. She will also be the 2004 recipient of the Women’s Committee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show Award. In 1992, Takaezu concluded a distinguished career in the Program in Visual Arts of Princeton University, where she taught for twenty-five years. She maintains a studio and a famous garden in Quakertown, New Jersey.
An exhibition publication with full color illustrations and an introductory essay by Darrel Sewell, Curator Emeritus of American Art, will be available for purchase. The exhibition and accompanying publication are made possible by Andrea Baldeck and William Hollis.
The exhibition is co-curated by Felice Fischer, the Luther W. Brady Curator of Japanese Art and Curator of East Asian Art , Kathleen Foster, The Robert L. McNeil, Jr. Curator of American Art, and Darrel Sewell, Curator Emeritus of American Art.