Japanese Potters Visit the Smart Museum Ceramic Collection

Potters and Neer_reseized.jpgBy Alice Kain
Study Room Supervisor, Smart Museum of Art

Theaster Gates is currently collaborating with three Japanese potters as part of his Soul Food Pavilion project for Feast. The potters recently travelled to Chicago to make dishes for the soul food ceremonies, which will be held at Theaster's Dorchester Project.

On their recent visit to Chicago the potters, Kouichi Ohara, Haruka Komatsu, and Yoko Matsumoto, were able to spend time with some of the ceramics in the Smart Museum collection. The potters, and Theaster's assistant Marlease Bushnell, were shown examples of Korean ceramics chosen for them by Richard Born, Senior Curator at the Smart. They were also shown a selection of Classical Greek ceramics by Richard Neer, Professor of Humanities and Art History at the University of Chicago. This combination provided an interesting juxtaposition of the familiar --Kouichi was especially knowledgeable about the 12th century Korean pieces-- and the unfamiliar, particularly with the methods used by the Ancient Greek potters. Initially the visit had been scheduled to take place in the Smart museum study room, but the number of ceramics to be shown became far too large for this space! The museum holds a culturally wide and valuable collection of ceramics, many of which are kept in storage and mainly used for research purposes. It was in this museum storage area that the potters were to have an up close encounter with some of these pieces. The potters were excited to have the opportunity to see the dishes and bowls without a glass vitrine.

Richard Neer provided an excellent narrative to the Greek pottery on display, explaining the particular method of clay slips and low oxygen firing that produced the familiar black and red figure glazes. A highlight was Richard's demonstration of a popular Greek drinking game. Using the Dionysus wine bowl as an example, he showed the potters how the Ancient Greeks would swirl the last dregs of wine in their cups and then throw them at a target on the wall! The Dionysus bowl particularly caught the potters' imaginations, as the painted eyes on the underside of the cup would have provided a facial mask for the drinker, referring to the God's role as patron to drama as well as winemaking, and also referencing the drinker's mask of inebriation.

After the visit Marlease reported back that Kouichi was particularly honored to have spent time looking at the Korean objects in storage: "Those pots were talking to me, and I would need to spend a whole day with them to hear all that they were saying."

Image: Kouichi Ohara, Haurka Komatsu, Yoko Matsumoto, and Richard Neer examining pottery from the Smart's collection. Photo by Sara Patrello.

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This page contains a single entry by Sarah Beth Mendelsohn published on November 11, 2011 11:03 AM.

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This is an informal curatorial research blog for Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art, an exhibition about the meal as a medium for contemporary artists. The exhibition opens at the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art in February 2012.