Secret treasure – Japanese kiriko cut glass

Edo kirikoThis post came so close to being a blogging fail I go hot and cold just thinking about it. You’d think that, as experienced art bloggers, Yannick and I would be able to navigate our way around an exhibition without missing ninety percent of the exhibits, wouldn’t you? Well, last week, we came perilously close to doing just that. 

To begin at the beginning; we’d gone to see the Edo Kiriko exhibition at the Japanese Embassy in Piccadilly. Edo Kiriko is Japanese cut glass from Tokyo (formerly known as Edo).  The first Edo Kiriko was made in 1834, when Kyubei Kagaya opened a glassware shop in the city. A few decades later in 1881, a British glass-cutting engineer, Emmanuel Hauptmann, was invited to train Japanese craftsmen in the latest glass-cutting technology, turning Edo Kiriko into a sophisticated craft that fuses Western techniques with Japanese sensibilities.

The Japanese Embassy show features contemporary decorative cut glass, with pieces specially created through a collaboration between glass cutter Toru Horiguchi and chef Ryosuke Uemura to create ‘the perfect dish for the perfect dish’.

The first dish, titled Fresh is designed for the display of sashimi.

Kiriko Japanese cut glass

The second, titled Growth, is made to display crab through a refracting glass cover.

Kiriko Japanese cut glass

The third, titled Colour, creates coloured dishes to complement and enhance the food.

Kiriko Japanese cut glass

We were a bit surprised that the show seemed to comprise just these three examples. But they were very attractive, and there was a useful explanatory panel showing how the dishes were used in the restaurant.

Kiriko Japanese cut glass

After five minutes we seemed to have seen all there was to see, including a film of craftsmen at work. I took a last look at a rather odd silhouette of hands holding a glass and idly wondered why it was projected onto a half curtain.

Kiriko Japanese cut glass

And then something glinted beyond, and I drew the curtain back to reveal…

Kiriko Japanese cut glass

An Aladdin’s cave of cut glass, glittering in the darkness.

Kiriko Japanese cut glass

In our defence, there was nothing to indicate that the quartet of explanatory panels were the walls of a hidden display. And there wasn’t any information about the items on display inside either, so I can’t tell you who made them or anything like that. It was a purely aesthetic experience.

Kiriko Japanese cut glass

The show isn‘t as large as you might think from the photos – the walls are mirrored, which accounts for the impression that it stretches to infinity. There are a couple of dozen pieces, each one individually lit by its own tiny spotlight.

Kiriko Japanese cut glass

Kiriko Japanese cut glass

I gathered from the exhibition website afterwards that it would have been okay to pick the exhibits up to look at them, but we didn’t dare. As it was, we felt as though we’d stumbled on some dragon’s hoard shining in the darkness. We crept away like naughty childen, closing the curtain carefully behind us.

Kiriko Japanese cut glass

We couldn’t help wondering how many visitors to the exhibition never penetrated the secret of the hidden treasure. If you want to take a look you’ll have to hurry – the show ends on Friday 6th February. The embassy is open weekdays 9:30 am to 5:30 pm and you need photo ID to get in.

Kiriko Japanese cut glass

7 thoughts on “Secret treasure – Japanese kiriko cut glass

  1. I love Edo kiriko now but it’s pretty recent I came to appreciate its beauty. Many of them are just too gaudy in my opinion while others appear delicate and pretty. I love the purple-based glass at the top. Very intricate. I also like the first green one. I don’t think I’ve seen green ones before.

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  2. I thought and did exactly the same! It was only spotting a pair of legs moving behind the boards that altered me. And even then I walked round a few time before working out that entry was through the curtains! I did read the “Do touch” note correctly though, it’s so easy to insert the missing word! Gorgeous items. I loved their colour and exuberance. But I also loved the cool, clear sushi block and crab covers.

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