Saturday, March 1, 2014

Chigusa and the Art of Tea

Where: Sackler Gallery

When: through July 27, 2014

Readers of this blog know very well my love for the Sackler.  Out of all the Smithsonian museums, it is my favorite.  Not only is their collection wonderful, but their exhibits are uniformly well done.  Thus, I am in an unusual position, for I'm writing about an exhibit that I thought was a bit nuts.

Chigusa is the name of a tea-leaf storage jar from the 16th century and the center of this show.  Made in China, it was transported to Japan, where it earned the favor of the tea men, connoisseurs of the beverage, its accoutrements and the rituals surrounding its consumption.

The exhibit itself is very nicely done, as usual at the Sackler.  There are two videos: one of a tea ceremony and one of a modern-day tea man adorning Chigusa with a mouth cover and a net bag.  There is also lots of explanation of Japanese tea culture, which began in the 16th century.  Chigusa itself is on display, in a glass case, in what I believe is the same location as the Cyrus Cylinder which was here in the US last year.  There's also a replica of a room for drinking tea, set up with all the necessary utensils for the practice.

My issue with the whole concept is that this seems sort of ridiculous.  To get this worked up over tea?  Yes, the jars on display are very nice, and I'm sure they do an admirable job of keeping tea leaves fresh (or however you want to keep tea leaves).  But is it worth all this rigamarole just for a cup of tea?  Granted, I'm such a troglodyte that I drink my tea from a bag, so who am I to judge?  Still, I did have to suppress the urge to laugh.

Verdict: The pottery is lovely, and I did learn quite a bit about Japanese tea culture, but this is still a bit over the top.

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