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Machiko Ogawa at the Gallery Koyanagi

by Monty DiPietro

Machiko Ogawa is, please pardon the pun, a very down-to-earth woman. While much of contemporary ceramics is refined and polished, Ogawa’s creations are proud of their terrestrial origins, and stand as a beautifully raw testimony to the artist’s love of this planet’s soil, its fossils, and its minerals.

Some 40 of Ogawa’s ceramic sculptures are on display in "Ogawa 2000K," an exhibition of the artist’s recent work, now on at the Gallery Koyanagi on Tokyo’s Ginza strip.

Ogawa, 53, developed her love of the land at a young age. She had a keen interest in shell-collection while growing up in Hokkaido. When Ogawa was in her teens an interest in woodblock printing brought her south where she attended the Tokyo National University in Fine Arts and Music. But more than anything else, it may have been her marriage, to an anthropologist, that was responsible for Ogawa’s coming around to ceramics as her medium of choice.

A work assignment took the young couple first to West Africa, in the early 1970s, and later to South America. It was in these faraway places that Ogawa encountered Algeria’s exotic "rose of the desert" (an ore), the rock salt of Timbuktu, and the fossils of Brazil. The maturing young artist was enchanted by the treasures of the earth, and she hasn’t slipped their spell yet.

The works in "Ogawa 2000K" (so-named, the artist explains in French, not because she means to fête the millennium, but rather because she dislikes naming shows, and so has a habit of titling them with the year and first letter of the host gallery) are a treat for the eyes and a soft song for the soul. The cone-shaped porcelain pieces, each about the size of a big fat provincial baguette (halved and hollowed), are presented here in tidy bundles of three. These have been arranged on the floor to form several fields which visitors can walk around and through, and in doing so one can come to appreciate the subtle differences between the works, this evidenced particularly in the blue glaze that rests inside each of the vessels. Ogawa fires this part of the piece up to six times to achieve her mysteriously translucent hues, presented here in variations such that the glaze resembles either ice, still water, or bubbling water. The exteriors of the works, in contrast, are dirt-brown and rough and peeling. I found the installation, especially when viewed up close, to be pleasingly melancholy. But when Ogawa asked me why I found it difficult to explain. The containment, perhaps, of the beautiful blues by the rough and utilitarian jugs. That is, if water jugs are what these works are meant to be interpreted as – they could just as well be seen as a harvest of stalactites.

Ogawa, anyway, is far more concerned with finding form than creating meaning. "Clay and I have the equal right," she explains in an essay. "I sometimes feel that clay is making me create, not that I am creating using clay. I am not concerned with expressing myself, but rather I must expose and show what is already there."

The Koyanagi started out some 15 years ago as a gallery devoted exclusively to the exhibition of ceramics before evolving into an all-encompassing contemporary art space it is today. But each January, in a tip of its hat to times gone by, the gallery mounts an exhibition meant to showcase one of Japan’s most creative contemporary ceramics artists. For fans of the form, Machiko Ogawa’s "2000K" will not disappoint.

Notes: Until Feb 10. (3563-3236)
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