In 2014, I co-curated an exhibition at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art (March 14th – May 17th, 2014) that introduced the concept of Toriawase into our contemporary environment in the museum setting. The exhibition explored how Toriawase happens not only outside of a Tea Room but also outside of all tea related situations.
Earlier in my career, I took a voluntary detour away from Japanese art, design, and crafts. Soon I started to gravitate towards American modern and contemporary art. I was finding expressions of human feelings deep inside minimalist or abstract expressionist works that echoed some of my experiences with traditional Japanese art. I started to hang them together and investigated how they “communicated” with each other. Were their exchanges similar to those between the pieces selected for the Tea Room? After many attempts, I was sure that something very similar was taking place. One day, I spent an entire night hanging works until at 5am and the result brought tears of joy to my eyes. I realized then very clearly that what I had been doing all night was the very same “Toriawase” that my family had been engaging in when preparing for a tea event. The idea of an exhibition started to percolate in my mind. I kept hanging artworks borrowing the Toriawase concept and showing it to connoisseurs and clients. One day, Cathy Kimball, executive director of SJICA and I were looking at Japanese artworks that I have when I asked her: “What do you think if we juxtaposed these works with contemporary art?“ After I explained to her the essence of Toriawase and my idea of an exhibition, she readily embraced it. The exhibition was a huge success and the confirmation of what I had sensed all along.
Centuries old Toriawase concept can be effectively brought into our contemporary environment as a way to enjoy art or to collect art, in both museum setting and in our house.
In fact, curators have been doing it, and we have been doing it for as long as we remember without knowing the anatomy of Toriawase.