"All things can be moved, no matter how big they are," laughs curator Russell Kelty.
And he would know. For the Art Gallery of South Australia's Japanese Sculptural Ceramics exhibition opening Saturday, Kelty needed a 320 kilogram sculpture moved from Canberra to Adelaide in a special climate-controlled truck.
The fragile ceramic monument is one of the acclaimed "dango" works by Kaneko Jun, measuring almost 1.5 metres high and named for the Japanese word for dumpling.
Kaneko is just one of the pioneering artists featured in the first major Australian show to survey Japanese ceramics from the 1950s to the present.
"I'm hoping to change the perception of Japanese ceramics from just wonderful vases, to things that are more sculptural, large scale and spectacular," Mr Kelty told AAP.
Japan has one of the oldest ceramics traditions in the world, but in post-war 1950s Japan ceramic artists were determined to shift a heavy weight of their own.
After the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that saw the end of World War II, Kyoto became the centre of a ceramic movement that would throw off the expectations of traditional Japanese art.
"In the aftermath of this disaster, they recognised that they could build something new, and that could they could think of clay as a medium for cultural regeneration," Mr Kelty said.
In Kyoto, which had been occupied by US forces and subjected to air raids, artists formed collectives and fired their works in shared woodfired kilns in the city's Gojo Zaka region.
"They created ceramics which they thought would heal the wounds of a nation, and in the process that created a type of ceramics which was highly regarded on the international scene," Mr Kelty said.
Post-war conditions also meant that for the first time Japanese women could actively pursue a career in ceramics, and were no longer secondary to their male counterparts.
The Japanese art of flower arranging had a role to play, too. When avant-garde Ikebana practitioners began using found objects as vessels for their arrangements, they encouraged ceramicists to make works that would be impossible to use for flowers.
The avant-garde group Sodeisha, or the Crawling through Mud Association, began to create abstract forms, the likes of which had never been seen before, and sought to reconcile conventional Japanese forms with the innovations of western artists such as Joan Miro and Paul Klee.
Mr Kelty and collector Rafy Star hit on the idea for a major survey of post-war ceramics about seven years ago, and since then Mr Kelty has been studying public and private collections in Australia and Japan to find the right pieces for the show.
The exhibition features more than 100 artworks made from earthenware, stoneware and porcelain and runs until November.
Australian Associated Press
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