The Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka

Oriental ceramics: Presentation of eternal beauty

The Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka

Preventing dispersal and loss of a superlative collections

Located on Nakanoshima Island, which during the Edo period was an entrepôt accommodating the warehouses of various clans.
Located on Nakanoshima Island, which during the Edo period was an entrepôt accommodating the warehouses of various clans.
国宝 飛青磁花生
Celadon with iron brown spots
National treasure
Longquan ware / Yuan dynasty (13-14th century) / 27.4 cm in height
Donated by the Sumitomo Group
This type of ware, characterized by the application of celadon glaze on top of scattered iron spots, was produced continuously at the Longquan kilns during the Yuan dynasty. In Japan, known as tobi-seiji, this ware was favored by tea masters. The exquisite contrast of the slender neck and the pear-shaped bulbous body is the key to the extraordinary poise of the work in its entirety.

As the name suggests, the collection of The Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka focuses on the ceramics of East Asia. The museum also serves as a research center. Located on Nakanoshima Island in the heart of Osaka City, the museum has a renowned collection of some 6,000 pieces of ceramics, centering on Korean works from the Goryeo dynasty and the Joseon dynasty and Chinese works, including two national treasures and thirteen important cultural properties.

The Ataka Collection accumulated by the former Ataka & Co., Ltd. is the core of the museum’s collection. Founded in 1904, Ataka was one of the ten leading general trading companies during World War II and in the post-war period, but ran into financial difficulties in 1975 and was absorbed by ITOCHU Corporation in 1977.

At that time, the fate of Ataka & Co.’s collection of 965 pieces of oriental ceramics attracted great attention. Since the superlative collection—including 144 Chinese works of the period from the Eastern Han dynasty to the Ming dynasty and 793 Korean works of the period from the Goryeo dynasty to the Joseon dynasty—was of such exceptional cultural value, it would have been a tragedy if it had been broken up at auction, dispersed and lost. The fate of the collection was even discussed in the Japanese Diet.

The Agency for Cultural Affairs made an unprecedented request to The Sumitomo Bank, which was the trustee, to prevent dispersal or outflow overseas of the Ataka Collection. In January 1980, 21 companies in the Sumitomo Group decided to donate all the oriental ceramics of the Ataka Collection to Osaka City, contributing funds for that purpose. In response, Osaka City announced a plan to construct a museum expressly to retain the collection and exhibit it as widely as possible. In November 1982, the museum, one of a handful in the world specializing in oriental ceramics, was established and the integrity of the Ataka Collection was ensured for future generations.

In the aftermath of World War II, the integrity of Japan’s artistic heritage was in jeopardy. Several notable collections established in the pre-war era were dispersed and lost, resulting in a significant cultural loss. It is noteworthy that in these circumstances the generosity of the Sumitomo Group protected cultural assets.

Successive donations increased the number of pieces in the museum’s collection

The museum subsequently received many donations. In addition to the 301 pieces of Korean ceramics from the Goryeo dynasty and the Joseon dynasty, 50 Chinese ceramics donated by businessman Dr. Rhee Byung-Chang, 242 pieces of Chinese ceramics donated by Mr. Masanobu Iriye, and 204 pieces donated by Mr. Mikio Horio including works by Shoji Hamada, the museum also received donations of Japanese ceramics and Persian ceramics. In the 30 years or so since it opened, the museum has become well established in the world of ceramics by virtue of the outstanding quantity and quality of its collection.
The Ataka Collection contained hardly any Japanese ceramics. Reflecting the view of the people of Osaka that The Museum of Oriental Ceramics should also have Japanese ceramics in its permanent exhibition in order to be worthy of its name, the museum started purchasing Japanese ceramics in 1993. Having established a committee for collecting Japanese ceramics in 1994, the museum is promoting collection based on a long-term purchasing plan reflecting the long history of Japanese ceramics. The museum also exhibits works of contemporary artists and has earned recognition as a center of excellence for the exhibition and research of ceramics.

古今の日本陶磁も収蔵展示。須恵器に始まり、奈良三彩や古九谷など、絢爛な色絵磁器も楽しめる。
Japanese ceramics from the ancient period are also on display. Starting with Sue ware (early stoneware fired at high temperature in a reduced atmosphere), visitors can also enjoy colorful ware decorated in overglaze polychrome enamel, such as Nara sancai (three-colored glazed ware) and Ko-Kutani.
現代を代表する作家の作品も展示する。
Works of leading contemporary artists are exhibited, too.

Display with natural light to appreciate the original tone

大阪市立東洋陶磁美術館 自然採光展示室
大阪市立東洋陶磁美術館 自然採光展示室

A display case bathed in soft light. The changing tone of the ceramics according to the weather and the time of the day is one of the attractions.

A distinctive feature of The Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka is the use of natural light enabling visitors to appreciate ceramics in all their original aesthetic glory. The natural light from the skylight is introduced via light ducts to the display cases indirectly. Illumination of the gallery is minimized so that only the display cases are clearly visible. This epoch-making system, the first of its type in the world, attracted great interest when the museum opened.

For the display of works of art, how to make it possible to appreciate the original tone of the color and texture of the works is an enduring issue. In particular, the color and texture of ceramics change greatly in appearance depending on the property of the light. Thus, a method enabling display with natural light has long been sought. Whereas display in natural light is not practical for paintings because of the impact of ultraviolet rays, it is possible for ceramics. Osaka City and Nikken Sekkei, which was responsible for the design, collaborated to create the museum’s natural light display system.

The natural light gallery usually displays celadon. Among ceramics, the color tone of the glaze of celadon is particularly susceptible to change depending on the attributes of the light. Indeed, tradition has it that celadon is best viewed at around 10 o’clock in the morning on a fine day in the autumn in a room facing north with sunlight through a shoji screen. The display cases are bathed in soft light just like the light through a window facing north and visitors can enjoy the changing tone of celadon as the relative positions of the Earth and the Sun change as the day progresses.

Editors

Tetsuro Degawa Director, The Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka
Tetsuro Degawa
Director, The Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka
Completed the Master’s Program (Aesthetics and Design Studies) at the Graduate School of Letters of Osaka University. Joined The Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka after serving as a curator at the Otani Memorial Art Museum, Nishinomiya City. Assumed the current position in 2008. Expert in the history of Chinese ceramics.
Shigeko Shigetomi Curators’ Department, The Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka
Shigeko Shigetomi
Curators’ Department, The Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka
Graduated from the Department of Aesthetics and Art History of Atomi University. Joined The Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka after serving as a curator at The Nezu Museum in Tokyo. Expert in the history of the tea ceremony. Retired in 2019.

(Affiliations and titles are of the persons mentioned in the article are as of the time of publication.)

Access

The Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka

Address:
1-1-26, Nakanoshima, Kita-ku, Osaka 530-0005
Opening Hours:
9:30 – 17:00 (Last admission at 16:30)
Closed days:
Mondays (open on national holidays and closed on the following days)
URL
http://www.moco.or.jp/

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