"The Dramatic Vessel" at the Museum of Contemporary Ceramic Art, Shigaraki / by Meredith Harper

The Dramatic Vessel opened March 11, 2017 at the Museum of Contemporary Ceramic Art, Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park, Shigaraki, Japan.  Rudolf Staffel's 1986 Light Gatherer is a highlight of the exhibition, which includes two works by the artist.  

The exhibition takes the ceramic art of Lucie Rie and Hans Coper as the departure point for the transformation of the "vessel" from utilitarian functionality into the realm of sculptural beauty, tracing the international aesthetic development and maturation of modern ceramic art in the post-war era.  Further information on the exhibition can be found here

Staffel's mature work in porcelain evolved in the late 1950s, during the height of Greenbergian aesthetic theory.  Having been a student of Hans Hofmann, he espoused not only Hofmann's teachings of push/pull, but also in general the principles of Abstract Expressionism in which pure form was championed as the dominant aesthetic preoccupation.  Just as the Abstract Expressionist painters made art about paint, Staffel made art about clay.  Moreover, his lifelong interest in the philosophies of Zen Buddhism and meditation are indivisible from the Light Gatherers' ethereal sense of spontaneity, balance, and minimalism.  Staffel described this crucial harmony of opposites: "You are not aware of push until you see pull, you are not aware of dark until you see light... To be aware of translucency you must have opaqueness."* The work also possesses aesthetic and philosophical links via Zen to Asian whiteware in the Japanese, Korean and Chinese traditions.

*Paula and Robert Winokur, "The Light of Rudolph Staffel," Craft Horizons, April 1977.


Light Gatherer, 1986, translucent porcelain, hand-built, Collection Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park, Japan

"The same moment can never happen twice, so be aware of it as it passes."   - Rudolf Staffel

Light Gatherer, 1989, translucent porcelain, wheel-thrown and incised, Collection Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park, Japan