Friday, April 8, 2016


Provenance; the origin or source of something, the history or ownership of an object or work of art.

On the occasion that I am selling a Japanese pot I am often asked the questions, what is the provenance of the piece, where did it come from, has it been exhibited, to collectors this can be an important aspect of the decision making to purchase the pot plus it also helps vet the authenticity as well. I think this is all well and good when you are dealing with Hamada, Rosanjin, Kawai and other truly monumental potters but for the majority of potters where forgeries are just nearly unheard of I am not sure that it matters excepting when a piece is illustrated in a catalogue, book or exhibition catalogue those just add to the allure of the piece. Beyond the provenance what really interests me is the travels that a pot can take and certainly through history there are many a famous pot that has its own travelogue quite distinctly narrated, from place to place and owner to owner, from castle to temple and in to the hands of famous warlords, tea master and wealthy patrons and merchants.

In a past post I was able to find the starting and ending point of a large Kohyama Yasuhisa piece but yet the circuitous route it took from point A to point B remains a mystery other than it was bought from a dealer who bought it from a dealer at a temple flea market. That explanation, though better than with most pots just doesn't cut it in terms of providing a narrative of the travels and how a piece that started out as an expensive pot can later be found for a fraction of the original value. What makes me think about the concept of travel is that I recently came in contact with a pot that was the highlight of a 2015 exhibition by a major potter only to show up on a ubiquitous auction site and sell for next to nothing. How does this happen, what is the travels or travails of the pot and owner that bring a piece to this fateful conclusion? I doubt I will ever know or track down the route by which it has traveled but it is a curious aspect of many object bought on a daily basis and for most it isn't the travel that matters but rather the destination.

As for provenance, I bought this "bowl" off an auction site several years back and inquired as to its origin or provenance and was told it was guaranteed late 18th to early 19th century Ohio River Valley red ware (slipware) acquired from an expert on such things. What I was hoping to get was how this chawan ended up in the US considering it originated in Fujina, Shimane prefecture made by the current head of the Funaki-gama, Funaki Kenji. There are a number of pots and chawan decorated like this piece in a variety of publications so this just goes to show the concrete validity of "origin stories" and why I am more interested in the journey rather than the prior ownership.

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