Exhibition: “Kitsch Kogei” by Keiko Masumoto

Can there exist objects that are not designed for practical use, yet are not simply decorative pieces?

octopus/pot by Keiko Masumoto

octopus/pot by Keiko Masumoto

That is the question Keiko Masumoto‘s exhibition “Kitsch Kogei” at the ICN gallery in London is asking.

Masumoto’s pieces, such as this octopus pot, take a look at the blurred boundaries between fine art and craft. Is this piece, a pot, a useful vessel, or a decorative art piece? Can an object be both?

octopus/pot by Keiko Masumoto

octopus/pot by Keiko Masumoto

Take a look at this flowered plate:

flower/plate by Keiko Masumoto

flower/plate by Keiko Masumoto

What would be a simple piece of craft – a decorative plate – has been turned into something else by the flowers which seem to climb from the plate’s pattern itself and break the boundaries of the craft object.

flower/plate by Keiko Masumoto

flower/plate by Keiko Masumoto

The pièce de résistance of the exhibition is this pagoda pot:

pagoda/pot by Keiko Masumoto

pagoda/pot by Keiko Masumoto

The pagoda would have been a very familiar sight to Masumoto as she lived, studied and worked in Kyoto. But she’s taken this familiar, traditional object, mixed it with a simple pot or vessel, and twisted it into something new.

pagoda/pot by Keiko Masumoto

pagoda/pot by Keiko Masumoto

The first time Japanese art was exposed to the West was at the 1873 World Expo in Vienna. This Japanese art mainly consisted  of pottery, craft and ukiyo-e. There wasn’t really any contemporary art in Japan at the time, and in fact there wasn’t even a word for “art” until 1873. After the expo, influences of Western art began to show in Japan, and art was taught at universities there. The development of art and craft were parallel at that time, and the word “kogei” became an ambiguous word because the boundaries between art and craft were blurred.

Keiko Masumoto sits somewhere on the border between art and craft. Inspired by artists such as Kozan Miyagawa, who wanted to use traditional Japanese techniques and bring them to the West, Masumoto takes elements of craft and moves them into the world of fine art.

Winepot by Kozan Miyagawa

(Image source: V&A)

The piece above reminds me a great deal of Masumoto’s “Kinkakuji/Plate”, which was exhibited at the ICN gallery last year:

Kinkakuji/Plate by Keiko Masumoto

Kinkakuji/Plate by Keiko Masumoto

Masumoto was also influenced by the traditions of the Japanese tea ceremony, and she tries to incorporate the values of Japanese culture into her work. Tea ceremony teaches the value of aesthetics and beauty, and so do Masumoto’s pieces. On the one hand, tea is just something that is drunk every day, but through the tea ceremony the bowl, the instruments, and the tea itself are valued and respected as almost sacred items. Masumoto’s plates and vessels are, on the one hand, simple craft objects. However, the beautiful, kitsch twists she has added, make them something else entirely.

I’m not in a position to purchase art but, if I were, I would buy art like this. In particular, I have my eye on the octopus/pot piece. This piece is so much more than I realised on first glance, and it’s thanks to the Curator, Hisami Omori, that I now understand it better. At a gallery talk, I heard Omori explaining that the pattern on the octopus piece is actually known as “octopus arabesque” or tako karakusa”. This pattern is a typical Japanese pattern from the Edo period.

(Image source)

Also, when octopuses are caught in Japan, they use a kind of vase or pot to catch them (know as a “tako tsubo”):

(Image source)

So here, in Masumoto’s octopus/pot piece, you have a three-fold play on meanings: it’s a pot, like those used to catch octopuses, covered in octopus arabesque, with actual octopus tentacles bursting from the edges of the pot. This idea of collecting “three” could also be said to have come from the traditions of the tea ceremony.

octopus/pot by Keiko Masumoto

octopus/pot by Keiko Masumoto

Tomorrow – 31st March – is the last day of the exhibition. Make sure you squeeze it in to your Saturday if you can!

Keiko Masumoto (b. 1982; Hyogo, Japan)
After completing both undergraduate and graduate ceramic programs at Kyoto City University in 2007, Masumoto was an instructor at ceramic studio Fumosha in Kyoto for three years. From 2010 she has been an artist-in-residence at the University of Arts (Philadelphia, USA). She has won numerous awards including the Grand prix at Tokyo Wonder Wall (sponsored by Tokyo metropolitan government) and has work in the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art’s collection.

Related Links

Keiko Masumoto’s website

ICN gallery website

(The ICN’s next exhibition, “What is Ukiyo-e?” part 1, will run from 5th to 28th April.)

9 thoughts on “Exhibition: “Kitsch Kogei” by Keiko Masumoto

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s