Often as I walk through the Asian galleries, I see people sitting on the bench in front of this porcelain sculpture, just sort of blissing out. It is indeed a beautiful object, insanely pristine with its pure white body and celestial blue glaze. If you look carefully at the surface of Shinso,
you can see subtle gradations of color, from an intense turquoise to almost white: the firing process caused the thin layer of glaze to liquefy and pool up in indentations while it ran away from the edges. These gradations help accentuate the shape of the sculpture. Its title invites us to get lost in it, to dive in and swim around in the blue as if it were some sort of limitless expanse of ether. But call me a cynic: when I look at this object I get a little bit bored with the smooth curve and infinite blue of the front surface. When I look at this object I like to stand at either end and spend some time running my gaze down the edges, which is basically the opposite of blissing out.
I don’t know why we don’t have photos that offer side views of this piece; I guess you’re just going to have to come see it for yourself. From the front, it looks like a concave triangle, like an old car logo (maybe Cadillac?) but from the sides you can see that the points are formed by a collection of crazy, waving contours and on one end they’re extended beyond their natural meeting point, almost stretched, so they look like they’re reaching out toward you. It’s graceful, but it’s also kind of aggressive and threatening. And the porcelain is so fine-grained that the artist has been able to create very, very sharp edges. It’s cloud as weapon; it’s a ray with razor-sharp fins.
Fukami Sueharu lives in Kyoto, Japan’s most traditional city. The high-grade porcelain he uses is usually reserved for dainty tea cups. He learned how to work with porcelain from his father, who was a maker of very refined table wares. The blue-green glaze that he uses is based on a Chinese formula from the Sung dynasty (960-1279), again something he learned about from the family business. Fukami looked at these traditional materials and saw new potential. He creates forms that look like the most perfect iceberg or like a sliver of sky glimpsed through a skylight, but almost everything he makes has some sort of spiky or blade-like edge, and in my opinion, that’s where his work gets interesting.
Joan Cummins is the Lisa and Bernard Selz Curator of Asian Art at the Brooklyn Museum. Joan received her Ph.D. in 2001 from Columbia University. Prior to coming to Brooklyn, Joan served as Assistant Curator of Indian, Southeast Asian, and Himalayan Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Her most recent book is an introduction to Indian painting, published in 2006 by the MFA, Boston. Joan was a Research Associate in Brooklyn's Department of Asian Art from 1991-1993.