'New Millennium Japanese Ceramics' at Northern Clay Center

In foreground: <em>Swing 1</em> and <em>Swing 2</em> by Chiho Aono

In foreground: Swing 1 and Swing 2 by Chiho Aono

​This month, Northern Clay Center completes its yearlong 20th-anniversary celebration with a fascinating exhibition featuring emerging Japanese ceramicists who work outside of traditional, functional ceramics. "New Millennium Japanese Ceramics: Rejecting Labels & Embracing Clay," curated by Daniel H. Rosen, offers an array of work by Japanese artists, including Rina Hongo and Naoto Nakada, who both participated in three-month McKnight residencies this summer. Also exhibiting are Chiho Aono, Makiko Hattori, Takashi Hinoda, Kyoko Tokumaru, and Jumpei Ueda. 

It's a treat of a show, full of playfulness and color, with the highlight being the weird amoeba-like sculptures of Chiho Aono, who makes strange, polka-dotted creatures that droop and ooze as if they're alive.

For example, in Aono's Swing 1 an orange blob with pink circles sits on a swing that hangs from the ceiling, with an extra dollop of blob on the floor. It carries the illusion of movement, as well as a sense that what we are seeing isn't simply an object that was once fired in a kiln, but something that actually is a living being. 

Also noteworthy are the two McKnight artists, Hongo and Nakada, who completed their three-month residencies at Northern Clay in September. Hongo uses newspaper and slurry to form her ceramic artworks, which are later covered with silkscreens that are printed in cloth that is burned away in the firing process, leaving only the silkscreen's patterns and textures. 
Hongo's pieces, which often look like rocks that have been sliced open, reveal layers inside from the cloth burnt away. There's something reminiscent of ritual about them, embracing the firing process to a point that instead of polished objects, they look like they have been used or destroyed, leaving only artifacts. Her series of four, called ZOU- Yoku Mireba Sou Mieru Deshou, rest on the floor with legs holding them steady in a pattern that evokes even more of a sense of power.
Nakada's work is strange and interesting. His piece TWINS (for Maple in Minneapolis) shows the figure of two dogs facing each other. However, on closer examination, you see that the dogs are made up of miniature dogs. To add to the creepiness factor of the piece, the dogs are the color of bone, so that it almost looks like the large dogs are made up of piles of mass graves of mini dogs. It's a haunting image that is juxtaposed with the cheerfulness of the two dogs greeting each other. 

Also shown in the exhibition is the work of Jumpei Ueda, who is currently serving a residency in Mexico, granted by the Gotoh Memorial Foundation Newcomer's Prize of Art. Ueda's pieces in this exhibition all either use Spanish words as their titles, or use Mexican motifs. Abocado (Spanish for lawyer), for instance, depicts two round characters in black suits and hats sitting cross-legged, smugly on a couch. Custom Ornament Pot, Mexican Specifications, Uno, is a teapot with the face of a Mexican wrestler's mask on it, with two miniature Mexican wrestlers on top. Ueda's past work has explored Japanese traditions and pop culture, and clearly Ueda is expanding this kind of work into other cultural areas. 
All of the pieces in this show are excellent, and it's definitely worth checking out the delightfully varied works from these young and talented Japanese artists. 

"New Millennium Japanese Ceramics: Rejecting Labels & Embracing Clay" runs through November 6 at Northern Clay Center (2424 Franklin Ave. E., Minneapolis). See the website for gallery hours, or call 612.339.8007 for more information.