Media only: James Gordon, 202.633.0520
Rebecca Fahy, 202.633.0521
Public only: 202.633.1000
Exhibition dates: November 19, 2005–May 29, 2006
November 4, 2005
As part of a yearlong series of exhibitions and programming celebrating the centenary of Charles Lang Freer’s gift of his collection to the nation, a new, intimate exhibition, “Freer and Tea: 100 Years of The Book of Tea,” takes a fresh look at Freer’s collection of Japanese, Korean, and Chinese ceramics associated with the tea ceremony. This select group of a dozen or so objects represents only a small part of the more than 350 ceramics Freer had amassed by 1906. It also introduces his views of them as preserved in his records.
The same year that Freer gave his gift—1906—Japanese art historian and curator Okakura Kakuzo (1862–1913) published “The Book of Tea,” the first study in English to explain the philosophical and aesthetic background of the tea ceremony. Just as Freer did not collect tea objects for practical use, Okakura did not intend his work to be a how-to guide. The book—continuously in print since it first appeared—remains a classic, available today in popular online formats as well. At the time it was written, Japan had defeated Russia at war, and Okakura, a curator at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, set out to create a text that would explain Japanese—and to a larger extent, Asian culture—to the West. Okakura explained that tea is much more than a drink; it is a way of life: “The tea room was an oasis in the dreary waste of existence where weary travelers could meet to drink from the common spring of art-appreciation”—Freer harbored similar thoughts for his collection and his museum.
Among the objects in the exhibition are:
• A 17th-century black Raku tea bowl, “Minogame” (mossy-tailed tortoise) by Hon’ami Koetsu (1558–1637); Koetsu, known as one of the three greatest calligraphers of the 17th century and a noted designer of craft objects, also created hand-sculpted Raku ware tea bowls.
• Two examples of unglazed stoneware—an Iga ware vase and a Bizen ware freshwater jar—that represent Freer’s interest in an aspect of Japanese ceramics decades before it was generally appreciated by American collectors
In addition, a hanging scroll of an informal letter by Koetsu shows another dimension of Freer’s tea-related collecting.
The Freer Gallery of Art (12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W.) and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (1050 Independence Ave. S.W.) together form the national museum of Asian art for the United States. The Freer also houses a major collection of late 19th- and early 20th-century American art. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day except Dec. 25, and admission is free. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information, the public may call (202) 633-1000 or TTY (202) 357-1729, or visit the exhibitions section of the galleries’ website.