Masanobu Ando, born 1957, started his career creating contemporary art and studying Buddhism. Following this period, he channeled his influence derived from Zen culture into his works and began creating functional objects for daily life. In 1988, he remodeled an original Japanese ceremonial teahouse into a gallery called Gallerie Momogusa. Our time spent with the artisan has been valuable in understanding his approach to craftsmanship, affirming that within the void lies a profound world to be discovered.
We are honoured to present this special guest feature written by Masanobu Ando, on the occasion of our exhibition Shaping the Void.
The entry below was translated from Japanese to English.
My first visit to New York was 1985. I was aspiring to be a contemporary artist. I remember it was at the MoMA museum that I encountered Japanese Mingei works, Netsuke (carved wooden buttons used to hang items from kimono sashes) from the Edo era, and vessels by Rosanjin Kitaōji. This discovery made me feel a bit relieved from the pressures of being an artist. I started to think about what the definition of art is for the Japanese and there were two noteworthy observations for me – that crafts rather than fine art were being represented as Japanese art and that they were not made for being admired, but rather for being used.
After the country opened from seclusion to the Western world in 1845, the Japanese began adopting Western culture. Meanwhile, the Japanese government promoted export handicrafts, aimed for being admired. The Japanese government encouraged craft artisans to manufacture world-class works comparable to fine art. Not only Western culture but entire belief systems were imported to Japan so the hierarchy that regarded fine arts as superior to craft works was also adopted. It resulted in a twisted cultural structure in Japan; handicrafts held a low position in representing Japan’s cultural heritage. Since then, the craft industry rivaled the fine art industry and the original belief that crafts should be made to be used was about to be forgotten.
When I started to make ceramic works, I felt something was wrong with this situation in Japan. My interest shifted towards creating vessels for daily life, without any support by the government or ambitions to rise within the hierarchy. I tried not to create for self-expression but instead with intuition that derived from my Japanese DNA. Another motive was to find a middle ground between high-priced and mass-produced tableware because I could hardly find handcrafted pieces that I could cherish in my everyday life.
I started to create tableware in the late 20th century. At the same time, Japanese artisans who worked with different mediums as me but with similar philosophies began to appear. Eventually the phenomenon became a movement called Seikatsu Kogei. There is no categorization, no hierarchy in Seikatsu Kogei. By the 21st century the concept emerged all over the world and it seems like it is still spreading widely. The goal of artisans with the Seikatsu Kogei philosophy is to create crafts that are eco-friendly and sustainable that also give a sense of joy to the maker, user, and seller. Instead of applying unnecessary decorative elements to ceramics, we keep blank spaces within sculptures and vessels to inspire the user’s way of interaction with the piece.
The appearance of a ceramic plate can differ according to what kind of food is being served on it and how it is plated. When you come in contact with vessels handcrafted by artisans, senses awaken and things that were invisible come alive. If we can define the experience as art, then there are no boundaries between fine arts and crafts. I hope my works, the shapes and voids will inspire your imagination to infinite possibilities.
Works by Masanobu Ando featured in these images will be available during the exhibition.
Photography by Armando Rafael Moutela.