Japanese art has spanned many genres – woodblock prints, calligraphy, ceramics – but, as The Wall Street Journal’s Lee Lawrence writes in this article, Japanese artists are embracing a new medium: glass art.

According to Lawrence, glass art has not been around for a long time in Japan. It was introduced by the Portuguese in the 18th century, experimented with in the 19th century and has only taken off as an art form in the last hundred years.

In the early 20th century, Toshichi Iwata was the first to delve into the art form and created colorful pieces that are still revered today. His apprentice, Kyohei Fujita, carried on Iwata’s legacy and garnered international fame. When glass art took off around the world, Iwata’s son, Hisatoshi, formed the Japan Glass Artcrafts Association, which helped to spread the medium and foster the genre among new artists.

Contemporary Japanese artists, both men and women, continue to push the creative boundaries of the medium and have also become internationally known. Still, the Japanese public, seemingly attached to the traditional ceramics genre, has not caught on to the new phenomenon and curators have found it difficult to fund their exhibits.

But while glass art is unstable in Japan, America is another story. Curators in the U.S. have praised Japanese glass artists as being at the forefront of the art form. This article by Mary Thomas of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette praises the Pittsburgh Glass Center’s exhibit “Allure of Japanese Glass” as being “mesmerizing.”

And Lawrence points out that there is a silver lining for Japanese artists as American collectors are frequently turning to Japan to find quality works:

In the U.S., on the other hand, “we have a wonderful base of glass collectors and many sizeable collectors’ groups,” says New York gallery owner Alice Chappell, who began showing Japanese glass art over two decades ago. Collectors’ groups organize lectures, demonstrations, studio visits, trips, hands-on workshops — all to educate members on the medium. This, in turn, fosters appreciation and the willingness to pay thousands of dollars for works that show innovation, creativity and mastery. Which explains why many American collectors today are setting their sights on Japan.


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