The exhibition Mizusashi: Japanese Water Jars from the Carol and Jeffrey Horvitz Collection—on view through June 11, 2017—is a focused look at how modern and contemporary interpretations of the water jar form vary within the medium of Japanese ceramics. Water jars are used in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony to hold the water that replenishes the tea kettle. They can vary in size and shape, and the artists whose work is on view have their own unique vision for what this object can look like. 

Our late curator of contemporary art Jay Jensen had the opportunity to meet and visit art collectors Carol and Jeffrey Horvitz at their home in Boston in 2015 and view their collection, which comprises not only contemporary Japanese ceramics, but also French and Italian old master drawings, paintings, sculpture, and Chinese cinnabar lacquer. To share their collection with the public, the Horvitzes have developed a lending program that works with museums and curators on an ongoing basis. Since March, about 200 works from the Horvitzes’ French drawing collection have been on view at the Petit Palais in Paris. HoMA’s Mizusashi exhibition is a traveling exhibition that is scheduled to go to approximately 10 different venues, including the Kimbell Art Museum in Texas, the Cincinnati Art Museum in Ohio, and the Morikami Museum in Florida.

On view in Mizusashi are 16 water jars selected by Jay Jensen and Carol and Jeffrey Horvitz from their collection—which totals around 40. The water jars range in shape from simple columnar and rounded forms to organic pumpkin-shaped vessels with undulating exteriors. The surface designs also vary widely, as some are simply glazed, while others are incised or applied with expressionistic brushstrokes. Many have ceramic lids that match the rest of the jar while several have shiny black lacquer lids, highlighting the contrast between the matte surface of the jar and the reflective surface of the lacquer. One bold red and black jar is displayed with its lid removed, so that the viewer can see the surprising blue color of the interior.

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Left: Maeda Masahiro (b. 1948). ‘Water Jar–Black and Red,’ 2011. Stoneware with enamel overglaze. | Right: Katsumata Chieko (b. 1950) ‘Pumpkin-shaped Water Jar,’ 2015. Hand-built, glazed stoneware.

Mr. Horvitz became interested in collecting art in 1972 while a graduate student at UCLA. From 1976 to 1980 he owned an L.A.-area gallery specializing in modern and contemporary art. In 1983, shortly after moving to Florida to work with his family business, he started collecting French and Italian drawings because, as he says, “they were plentiful and inexpensive.” Later, he broadened his collection to include paintings and sculpture. In 1990, he met his wife Carol who brought an interest in Asian art to the couple’s collecting strategy. Today their collection includes French drawings, paintings and sculpture spanning the years 1600 to 1850, and modern and contemporary Japanese ceramics, which they have been collecting since 2008.

In order to build their Japanese ceramics collection (which includes approximately 800 works overall) they make a point of visiting artists’ studios in Japan every two years. They learn a lot about an artist’s process through watching them work on individual pieces and over the years have learned to distinguish the best work of a particular artist. As collectors the Horvitzes are interested in artists who work with traditional forms and retain an existing relationship to history, but bring a unique and fresh approach or technique to the work without entirely rejecting the past. They are most intrigued with works that demonstrate the concept of wabi-sabi, an aesthetic which values chance, imperfection, and randomness in objects and processes.

Learn more about Carol and Jeffrey Horvitz in our in-depth interview with them from April 3, 2017.

Pictured at top: Left: Wada Morihiro (1944-2008). “Brown Water Jar with Floral Patterning,” 1993. Glazed stoneware. | Right: Kiyomizu Rokubei VI (1901-1980). ‘Water Jar with Floral Patterning,’ 1978. Glazed stoneware with overglaze decoration, lacquer lid.