Home > Collections > New Acquisitions > May 2014 > Miyashita Zenji (1939–2012)

Miyashita Zenji (1939–2012)

The Sackler Gallery’s permanent collection includes 105 works of modern or contemporary (post-1930) Japanese ceramics. A dominant theme of this group is work by artists based in Kyoto, a center of refined and original ceramic production since the late sixteenth century and the source of key transformations in postwar ceramics, from vessels to sculptural forms. A further goal for the collection has been to represent generations—whether successive generations of potters from a single workshop or works of teachers and their disciples. 

These six objects span forty years of work by Kyoto artist Miyashita Zenji (1939–2012). Their acquisition enables us to reach toward another goal: to represent the diversity and development of a single artist’s work, including early experiments and tentative ventures into styles that were later abandoned. Training as an assistant to his father, artist Miyashita Zenju (1901–1988), Zenji studied at Kyoto Art University under renowned abstract sculptor Kiyomizu Kyubey (1922–2006) and, later, with Kusube Yaichi (1897–1984). He began exhibiting in the annual Nitten exhibitions in 1964, eventually winning eighteen prizes.

By the early 1980s, Miyashita had developed his signature style, which involved applying thin layers of tinted clay in gradations of hue, as represented by the three works spanning 1986 to 2008. His mature work was a modern embodiment of a classic Kyoto mode associated with the Heian period (794–1185). He applied delicate layers of color—reminiscent of multilayered court robes or decorated papers made for inscribing poetry—using not overglaze enamels or glazes but clay itself, dyed with mineral pigments.

Above, clockwise from left: Miyashita Zenji (image courtesy of Alice and Halsey North); detail, Saidei kaki—Yo (Colored clay vase—Distance); Subaru asa (Unified morning); Tsubo—Hoen (Jar—Square Garden); Vessel.

 Tsubo—Hoen <br/>(Jar—Square Garden)  Vessel  Aisai fumon kaki <br/>(Indigo blue wind design vase)  Saidei kaki—Yo <br/>(Colored clay vase—Distance)  Sakanoboru kaze II <br/>(Upstream wind II)  Subaru asa <br/>(Unified morning)

The Freer|Sackler is closed for renovation and reinstallation. The popular exhibition Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan is still on view in the International Gallery. (Enter through the Ripley Center.) Join us for our reopening celebration on October 14–15, 2017.