from 27.10.2017 to 18.02.2018

On the art of building a teahouse

Excursions into Japanese aesthetics

In Fall 2017, Neues Museum Nürnberg will host a major exhibition on Japan. Focussing on the art of building a teahouse, it invites viewers to explore the world of Japanese aesthetics.

The point of departure for this voyage is the traditional Japanese teahouse, a place of spiritual experience. The founder of this practice was the famous tea master Sen no Rikyū (1522-1591) who understood the tea ceremony as a synesthetic event. Rikyū recommended that teahouses should be markedly simple and made by the use of materials that are vulnerable both to wear and wheathering. Japan's tea culture and its links to Zen Buddhism have brought forth an aesthetic of lightness, fragility and the ephemeral to which we owe objects of overwhelming beauty.

The exhibition offers new approaches to the quintessentially Japanese notion of an aesthetic practice of transformation. In this practice, simply drinking tea becomes a ceremonial act. Everyday tasks and objects become occasions for meditation on matter and time. The teahouse created for this purpose plays host to a concentration of space and time. In this setting, the profane becomes meaningful and everyday simplicity acquires an aura of specialness. The tea ceremony suspends the flow of time, celebrating the pure, unrepeatable moment. But it can only take place if the participants themselves are prepared to undergo a self-transformation – only when their own perceptions are altered does the "way of tea" become an aesthetic practice in which the strict separation of art and life is overcome.

The show explores the basic notions of the Japanese tea aesthetic and allows them to be experienced in seven themed sections. The featured works of art, architecture, design and photography are part of an art-historical continuum. The creators of the works on show perform skilled translations: in dialogue with craft and design traditions, they update the central motifs and themes of tea culture using modern materials and innovative forms.

The section Ephemerality and Impermanence (Mujō) points to the Buddhist roots of Japanese aesthetics, in which the ephemerality of things is part of their beauty. The design of Kengo Kuma's Hōjō-an pavilion is based on the fragility of materials and joints. The works in the section Reconstruction and Deconstruction point to cyclical processes marked by destruction, loss of form and rebuilding. Here, disasters and the ways they are overcome provide subject matter for art, as seen in the contributions of Atelier Bow-Wow and Wajirō Kon. In the section Floating Boundaries, works by Hiroshi Sugimoto and Yasuaki Onishi portray materiality at the very limits of perception. The section Nature and Artefact brings together works that derive their aesthetic appeal from rendering visible processes in nature. The section New Craft features objects that pay a contemporary tribute to centuries-old craft traditions. In the section Value of Imperfection selected works offer insights into the broad spectrum of contemporary Japanese ceramics. With works of textile art (by artists including Issey Miyake), Cut and Continuity points to notions of wholeness and fragment as a central theme in Japanese aesthetics.

Participating artists include:

Atelier Bow Wow (architecture), Chanto Lacquer (crafts), Naoya Hatakeyama (photography), Hosoo (textile art), Intermediatheque / The University Museum, the University of Tokyo (installation), Kaikado (crafts), Kamisoe (crafts), Wajirō Kon (architecture, Archives of Aoyama Gakuin University), Takahiro Kondo (ceramics), Kengo Kuma (architecture), Issey Miyake (fashion), Nosigner (design), Makoto Ofune (painting / installation), Yasuaki Onishi (installation), Hiroshi Sugimoto (photography), Takano Chikkō (crafts), Reijiro Wada (sculpture / installation).

Neues Museum Nürnberg is a museum of both art and design. With the interdisciplinary project On the Art of Building a Teahouse, it aims to bring together contemporary applied disciplines, fine art and handcrafts from Japan in a single show. The selected works will be presented in an exhibition architecture that appeals to the senses, enriched by in-situ installations by participating artists.

The exhibition will be produced by Neues Museum, based on a concept by guest curators Murielle Hladik and Axel Sowa.


Murielle Hladik and Axel Sowa.

Exhibition Guide

The accompanying booklet for the exhibition, which you can obtain free of charge when you visit the exhibition, can be viewed online as a PDF or downloaded here.