Co-curated by Andrew M. Watsky, professor of Japanese art history and archaeology at Princeton University, and Caru Liu, the museum's curator of Asian art, the exhibit explores the ways of appreciating, displaying, using, and documenting this prestigious Chinese antique-turned-tea-jar.
"In an unusual way, the exhibit is about one object, this tea storage jar, which is 40 centimeters tall," Watsky
Its name distinguishes it from all other tea jars and thus has enabled scholars, such as Watsky
, to trace its history as a revered object within the Japanese tea tradition.
Additional tea culture accessories and archival materials accumulated over the course of Chigusa's long life enhance and expand the exhibition.
Those "accessories" can be thought of as gifts Chigusa's admirers would have given it, and include textile "clothing," exquisite storage boxes, and even poetry.
It's a bit like the ancient Egyptians burying their royalty with the fine things they loved, with the major difference being that Chigusa was never buried.
"For centuries Chigusa has been very much used in the practice of tea," says Watsky
, explaining that he
does not use the term "tea ceremony."
"The Japanese term for the ceremony is 'chanoyu,'" he
"Most people seeing the exhibit are not speakers of Japanese, but I hope the new word they take away is this one, 'chanoyu.' This was a very important cultural practice and goes all the way back to the 15th century, and it still goes on today."
The sumptuous, 288-page book, "Chigusa and the Art of Tea," co-edited by Watsky and Louise Allison Cort, curator of ceramics at the Smithsonian Institution's Freer and Sackler galleries, accompanies the exhibit.
"The tea practice has changed a lot over the centuries, according to the nature of people," Watsky
"It's not (and was never) just sitting around drinking tea; there are a whole range of activities that are focused around the enjoyment of tea - how you receive the tea, how you drink it, even the room where 'chanoyu' takes place - which would be carefully designed to facilitate this activity - was important."
"This exhibit is focused on the 16th century, one of the high points of the tea practice," he
"I think of it as the avant-garde performance practice of the day, and the people involved in this practice were well trained."
is teaching an undergraduate seminar this fall titled "Tea, Large Jars, Warriors, and Merchants in 16th Century Japan.
The seminar will use the exhibition as a laboratory for the study of Japanese art, each week focusing on a different aspect of tea culture.
Certainly the warrior class in 16th century Japan was involved in "chanoyu," but so was the mercantile class.
Leaders of both classes were the most involved in the tea practice because it took money to collect the things to honor and give to Chigusa.
"You also needed time to fully appreciate and participate in the tea practice," Watsky
"It's been very well taken care of," Watsky
A busy lecturer as well as a prolific author of scholarly articles about Japanese art and culture, Watsky
grew up in Westchester County, where his
father was in the roofing business and his
mother was a career counselor; neither had much curiosity about the Far East, but always encouraged their son in his
Watsky graduated in 1979, with a bachelor's degree in art history, from Oberlin College in Ohio, and then traveled to Japan after college as an Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association Fellow.
"I ended up staying in Japan for six years, and I guess I fell in love with Japan and its art - especially 16th-century art, which spoke to me on a visceral level," Watsky
He earned a master's degree in Japanese art and archaeology from Princeton University in 1990, then a Ph.D. in the same field of study in 1994.
In the late 1980s Watsky was a curatorial assistant/assistant curator of the exhibit, "Japan: the Shaping of Daimyo Culture, 1185-1868," at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
That was followed by joining the art history faculty at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, from 1994 to June, 2008, and, in 2006, spending six months as the Atsumi visiting associate professor in Japanese art in the art history and archaeology department at Columbia University.
He joined the Princeton faculty in 2008 and serves as both professor of Japanese art history and director of graduate studies.
"Since living in Japan, I've always had a close connection to it, both personally and professionally," Watsky