Japanese `National Treasure' Ceramicist Discusses Life and Work on the Eve of First U.S. Solo Show

A Life of White Porcelain: Living National Treasure Ceramist Manji Inoue

Monday, September 10, 2012, 6:30 pm at Japan Society

** In Conjunction with the Mystical White Porcelain Exhibition at Ippodo Gallery September 12-October 13 **

New York, NY – Manji Inoue’s iconoclastic ceramic works have been shown in museums and galleries around the world and are permanent fixtures at Japan’s Imperial Palace. Designated a Living National Treasure by the Japanese government, Inoue will have his first solo exhibition in the U.S., Mystical White Porcelain, at the Ippodo Gallery September 12-October 13.

On Monday, September 10, Inoue appears in A Life of White Porcelain at Japan Society to reflect on his long career in the Arita-style of pottery and to discuss the importance of preserving the craft of ceramics for future generations—a mission he has accomplished in the U.S. through teaching and lecturing for more than 40 years. Moderated by Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Soyoung Lee, the discussion is followed by a reception.

True to the declaration "form is beauty," Inoue's style consists only of white porcelain even though the majority of Arita-ware is colorful. “White porcelain possesses an inherent beauty without additional decoration, the shape itself provides the design,” says Inoue. His work, notes Ippodo Gallery’s PR materials, does not mimic classical craft, but rather “intuitively captures shapes from nature that are the ultimate in simplicity, rotund yet sublime”; it appears to defy gravity in the way it swells outwards then yields to its weight and bursts “with freshness like an egg.”

Born in 1929, Manji Inoue joined Japan’s Naval Aviation Preparatory School at the age of 15. A year later after World War II ended, he took up pottery to help the family business. He apprenticed the famous Arita potter, Kakiemon Sakaida XII, and then trained under Chūemon Okugawa I, a master of the pottery wheel. Devoting himself to his craft, he turned out vast numbers of pots as he developed his inimitable wheel technique. While he was still in his forties, he was honored with the task of throwing a huge decorative pot, 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall for the new Imperial Palace.

In his sixties, Inoue traveled to Jingdezhen in China, a town famous as the “Porcelain Capital”, to study techniques practiced there. As a result, he has produced white porcelain works with carved designs as well as applying green glaze to create carved celadon--decoration applied solely to highlight the beauty of the white porcelain, employing modest subjects such as barley or flowers. Unlike traditional celadon that utilizes a black paste, Inoue applies the glaze to white porcelain, creating a pale, peppermint green that possesses a distinctive grace.

Inoue has taught his craft worldwide, particularly in the U.S. (which he calls his “second home”), where he has instructed for more than 40 years. From 1969 to 1976 he served as a lecturer on Arita-ware at Pennsylvania State University, and in 1980 he taught ceramics at California State University and New Mexico State University. He credits his students during this time and their sense of ‘free creativity’ as inspiration to break from tradition—to “not confine himself to the old ideas, but always aim to give birth to something new”. In 1995, Inoue was designated an Important Intangible Cultural Property (Living National Treasure), Japan’s highest honor, for his work with white porcelain. Today, at the age of 83, he continues to work vigorously.

Soyoung Lee is Associate Curator in the Asian Art Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum’s first curator of Korean art. Most recently, Lee organized the exhibition, Poetry in Clay: Korean Buncheong Ceramics from Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, which featured more than 60 objects, including works by contemporary Korean and Japanese potters highlighting how the buncheong tradition has been revived and transformed by today’s artists. Lee has authored several books, essays, and articles, including Art of the Korean Renaissance, 1400–1600 and Korean Buncheong Ceramics from Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art. Her next project is a major loan show of art from the Silla period, ca. 400-800, to open in fall, 2013.

Founded in 1907, Japan Society is an American nonprofit committed to deepening mutual understanding between the United States and Japan in a global context. Now in its second century, the Society serves audiences across the United States and abroad through innovative programs in arts and culture, public policy, business, language, and education.

A Life of White Porcelain: Living National Treasure Ceramist Manji Inoue takes place Monday, September 10 at 6:30 pm. Japan Society is located at 333 East 47th Street between First and Second avenues (accessible by the 4/5/6 and 7 subway at Grand Central or the E and V subway at Lexington Avenue). Tickets are $12/$8 Japan Society members, seniors and students. Tickets may be purchased in person at Japan Society, by calling the box office at 212-715-1258, or at For more information, call 212-832-1155 or visit the website.

This program is sponsored by Ippodo Gallery. Lecture Programs at Japan Society are generously supported by Toyota Motor North America, Inc. Japan Airlines is the exclusive Japanese Airlines sponsor of Lecture Programs at Japan Society. United Airlines is the exclusive U.S. Airlines sponsor of Lecture Programs at Japan Society. Additional support is provided by Chris A. Wachenheim and the Sandy Heck Lecture Fund.

Media Contacts:

Shannon Jowett, 212-715-1205,

Kuniko Shiobara, 212-715-1249,

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