« March 24, 2009 | Main | March 26, 2009 »

March 25, 2009

The esthetics of kintsugi (golden joinery)


It "... means 'golden joinery' in Japanese, and it refers to the art of fixing broken ceramics with a lacquer resin made to look like solid gold," wrote Blake Gopnik in a March 3, 2009 Washington Post Style section front page article, which follows.


At Freer, Aesthetic Is Simply Smashing

It's not often that an exhibition makes you want to run home and smash your best china. But that could be the result of a visit to "Golden Seams: The Japanese Art of Mending Ceramics," a tiny gem of a show at the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery. Of course, before you start smashing, you'll want to make sure you have access to a master of kintsugi.

That means "golden joinery" in Japanese, and it refers to the art of fixing broken ceramics with a lacquer resin made to look like solid gold. Chances are, a vessel fixed by kintsugi will look more gorgeous, and more precious, than before it was fractured.

All the broken pots in "Golden Seams" are lovely and impressive as could be. Thirteen ceramics from China, Vietnam, Korea and Japan, which have been mended and enhanced with this distinctive Japanese technique, are included in this small exhibition.

The story of kintsugi may have begun in the late 15th century, when the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa sent a damaged Chinese tea bowl back to China to be fixed. It returned held together with ugly metal staples, launching Japanese craftsmen on a quest for a new form of repair that could make a broken piece look as good as new, or better. Japanese collectors developed such a taste for kintsugi that some were accused of deliberately breaking prized ceramics, just to have them mended in gold.

Kintsugi adds a whole new level of aesthetic complexity to the vessels that it mends. A beautiful 14th-century vase from Longquan, China, glazed in translucent celadon with fronds and leaves in delicate relief — just the kind of porcelain that shogun Yoshimasa is supposed to have sent out for repair — started life as an example of pristine symmetry. Once it was broken and mended, however, that order was disrupted by bold zigs and zags of gold, along with a golden crescent where a piece of the original rim was replaced. Because the repairs are done with such immaculate craft, and in precious metal, it's hard to read them as a record of violence and damage. Instead, they take on the look of a deliberate incursion of radically free abstraction into an object that was made according to an utterly different system. It's like a tiny moment of free jazz played during a fugue by Bach.

Or the same kintsugi can have an almost opposite effect, as when it's used to fix a much coarser tea bowl, in Japanese Yatsushiro ware. There, the repair becomes a controlled thread of treble in a composition that is otherwise all careening tubas and double basses. It's even possible that the Freer's 18th-century Yatsushiro piece was carefully chosen for the deformities it had acquired in a badly heated kiln, then deliberately broken and repaired. A pot that would normally have been trashed was recognized as the perfect background for work in precious kintsugi.

Kintsugi can also be read as an explicit sign of culture clash. A 15th-century bowl is decorated with the loose, abstract patterns of Korean punch'ong wares, in pale greens, beiges and white. The large piece broken from its rim, however, is filled with a gilt patch that anyone would recognize as Japanese: It is done in the insanely detailed gold-on-gold technique known as maki-e, and shows tiny leaves and cherry blossoms floating on a ground of gold. Thanks to kintsugi work, a Japanese collector doesn't merely own fine old objects from China and Korea. He marks them forever as distinctly Japanese.

That hints at one of the most impressive things about this little exhibition. Where the huge range of precious Asian objects at the Freer can leave the nonspecialist at sea, the lines of gold that run through all the varied objects in this show bring them together into a single, comprehensible experience. The cracks shown off in "Golden Seams" become a unifying aesthetic thread. That must always have been part of their appeal.

Golden Seams: The Japanese Art of Mending Ceramics runs through May 10, and then from May 23 through Nov. 8, at the Freer Gallery of Art, on the south side of the Mall at 12th Street SW. Call 202-633-1000 or visit www.asia.si.edu.


Interestingly, the reason the show is down from May 11-22 is to allow for "rotation of light-sensitive works."

The caption for the photo up top: "Tea Bowl. Japan, Mino or Seto ware. Muromachi period, early 16th century. Stoneware with iron and ash glazes over iron slip; maki-e lacquer repairs. 6.3 x 16.8 x 16.8 cm."

March 25, 2009 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Peanut Erasers


"Don't eat them."

Approved for use by people with peanut allergies.

No peanut products were used in their manufacture.

Bag of five: $5.50.

[via Milena]

March 25, 2009 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

WO MEN — by Aliza Dzik


Less is more.

[via noquedanblogs.com and SwissMiss]

March 25, 2009 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

BatRest Version 2.0: Crabble — New and improved wallet-carried iPhone stand

Kenneth, what is the frequency?

Just in this morning, the following email from one Courtenay Inchbald (is that a name out of William Gibson or what?):


Black or Translucent: $4.99.

March 25, 2009 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: National Guideline Clearinghouse — '2,400 sets of clinical guidelines spanning everything from drugs and devices to psychotherapy'


I'd never heard of this site until I read about it in Adam Marcus's March 2009 Anesthesiology News story.

From the article:

"Curious about the latest guidelines on managing tick-borne protozoan infections? What about state-of-the-art advice for treating ingrown toenails? The National Guideline Clearinghouse is the place to go."

"Now in its 10th year, the government-sponsored Web site (www.guideline.gov) is an online repository of roughly 2,400 sets of clinical guidelines, spanning everything from drugs and devices to psychotherapy. For anesthesia alone, the site hosts 322 recommendations. Some, like the American Society of Anesthesiologists 'Practice Guidelines for Pulmonary Artery Catheterization,' are critical documents for the specialty."

"Others are more esoteric. Take, for example, 'Safe Sedation of Children Undergoing Diagnostic and Therapeutic Procedures. A National Clinical Guideline,' from the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network, or 'The Copper Intrauterine Device as Long-term Contraception,' from the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare."

"Access to the content is free, through an arrangement made between the NGC and the groups that write the guidelines, said Mary Nix, project officer for the program."

"Guidelines 'must be developed, reviewed or revised within five years of the date of publication,' Ms. Nix said."

"A decade ago, Ms. Nix said, some critics of the NGC ridiculed the notion that doctors and other health care professionals would turn to the Internet. So much for them. The site receives 700,000 visits each month — many more than officials expected when they launched the clearinghouse in 1998, she said."

March 25, 2009 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

What is it?

Answer here this time tomorrow.

March 25, 2009 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

How China sees the world


Above, the cover of the latest issue (March 21, 2009) of The Economist.

Sometimes the truth hurts.

March 25, 2009 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Russian Anthem Tape


2 inches (50mm) wide, 197 feet (60m) long.

Made in Russia.


March 25, 2009 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

« March 24, 2009 | Main | March 26, 2009 »