Toshiko Takaezu's work at Princeton Art Museum is worth a look. I wish it could be touched. It is art made to be touched. I fell in deep like with a monolith of a piece, a tall black form rising like a classic vase,from a base let's say two or three feet in diameter, up to a rounded shoulder a couple of feet wider. Reminiscent of a classic vase form, it defies vasehood by being closed at the smooth, rounded top. There is no opening. It is a form.
It is glazed a semi-matte black. Something in the glaze, perhaps feldspar, sparkles in the soft exhibition light.
Like much of Toshiko's work, it is like some magnificent stone, in this case covered with a mineral formulation that resembles faintly luminous sumi ink. It is not functional, and of course it does not speak out loud, but still evoked my response by its very monolithic muteness. Maybe early idols were like this, seeming to be more than stone. Of course, this is no idol, but a ceramic piece with an outsized presence.
Remember, this black piece, among the rest of the pieces in the exhibition, is in a museum space. We all know you must not touch museum pieces.
Toshiko sometimes encloses rattling bits in her pieces. If you could lift one of these pieces, you could hear it. It would become interactive. You cannot see the interior at all on her closed forms, or on the forms with just a tiny conelike hole at the very top. You can feel the volume of enclosed space from the exterior of the forms. But I read here about the rattles, and I am only a little surprised. It makes sense. These are quiet "pots" with a presence that radiates a power note. With her rattle enclosures, Toshiko makes the sound into reality. I have never held one of her pots in my hands. I must take this information as it is told, but wouldn't it be good to shake...
The piece I liked so much, towering over shortish me from its place on a museum platform, was so strong and appealing that I stepped as close as I could. In life, I'm wont to touch satins and velvets, netting and bark, feathers and stones. Potters touch things. We fall for texture. We are secret texture fondlers. Quick look around- no museum guard, no other patrons besides my two friends, absorbed in their own trip among Toshiko's pots. I laid a hand on the tall black "stone," named Night, and held it there for a couple of blissful seconds. The glaze was somehow warm and practically electric. I was not disappointed. I needed to be too quick to really assess and disassemble the feeling, but the faint ridges of the skin (from the making process), covered in the semi-smooth feldspathic glaze, connected and completed the viewing experience.
Tactile medium! Touching necessary! Impulse ruled. I hope no one will track me down and bar me from entry to the Princeton Museum over it! But- until this moment of public confession- no one knew. It wasn't ignorance that let me touch the art- me, the rule-observer, the goody-two-shoes! I did know this was not raku, not earthenware, not porous, not easily damaged without a sledegehammer, not delicate!
This is not like a painting. It is high-temperature fired clay covered in a very durable glaze. The glaze will not erode by my touch, as it is truly fired onto (and merged with) the surface of the clay it covers. It may show prints from the oil in the skin of touching fingers (which can be wiped away), but otherwise it would be unaffected by human touch. Ms. Takaezu's work begs to be touched. Can't this be interactive, as it was meant? Can't this art exhibition allow at least this one heavy, large pot, stable in its stance, to be touched? I wonder what the remarkable Toshiko, now 88 years old, would say. I hope she would not censure my impulse, born of the magnetic presence of her pieces and my love of things Clay.
I confess. My own brief, totally unsanctioned moment of touch was marvelous. While I don't recommend it to you, reader, because it is wrong to suggest you break the rule, too, it was a precious couple of seconds I am glad I had.
(The photo at the top of this page show Ms. Takaezu walking in front of pieces very like the one I touched.)