While the phrase historical modernism might sound pretty ridiculous, it actually makes a lot of sense when one considers Oribe Yaki. Furuta Shigenari was quite an innovator when he created the first yakimono pieces in his own unique style. Many of these pieces look quite modern by today’s standards.
Oribe himself was never actually a potter. He was a designer and an art director who many feel truly embodied the spirit of wabi tea. His work actually sought to give the wabi tea movement a voice.
Modern chawan pieces might actually look less modern than the ones created during his lifetime, as ironically as that might sound. Historical Oribe Yaki ceramics feature bold abstract patterns that almost look like they could have become popular in the 1960s.
There are a few reasons that these tea ceremony pieces were so wild. Green and brown glazes were welcome in the 16th century Kyoto tea scene. Wild imagination and unbridled passion was part of the Momoyama-era (1573-1615). This might even explain why later work was comparatively boring. Oribe Yaki artists institutionalized the glazes and the style that came along with it.
A majority of later pieces were essentially copies of earlier styles. As the art form was reduced to nothing more than a copied style, patterns became increasingly demure. Nevertheless, Oribe Yaki from as late as the 19th century still shows at least some of the elements of the historical modernism that defined the movement as a whole.
Oribe yakimono pieces are unique to Japan. No one should expect to find them outside of the country expect on the shelves of specialized art and antique shops. That’s one of the reasons that they continue to attract such a big following.
Collectors should note that with modernism comes minimalism. A Momoyama era kuro-oribe chawan might not really have any decoration to speak of. If there are marks on these pieces, they were probably made by tongs when the clay was still wet.
Nevertheless, this minimalism is something that attracts collectors to the style. Tong scratches are actually desirable, as are other impurities. While modern collectors have been conditioned to believe that these things are unwelcome and detrimental to a piece of artwork, they simply add to the crazy patterns that are often prominently featured on period work. Sadly, more recent pieces usually have little more than brown and green glazes strewn together with no attention paid to the way that the work is glazed.