By: Sheila Gibson Stoodley
Joan Mirviss stood out from the day she started her business in 1977—she sold Japanese prints and paintings when her peers offered either one or the other. Since she added contemporary Japanese ceramics in 1984, the artworks have grown to account for half her receipts. In the wake of the demise of the International Asian Art Fair (see “No Fair,” page 32), Mirviss is coordinating an open-house event during New York’s Asia Week for Upper East Side dealers of Asian art. Her contribution will be a one-man show of Kawase Shinobu, considered Japan’s leading celadonware artist. Mirviss will hold it at the gallery space where she relocated following three decades of welcoming clients at her Manhattan apartment.
How do you choose your contemporary Japanese ceramic artists?
When I find a young talent, I work with them until they get to a point where I’m willing to commit to a large body of work. Sometimes one of my artists who are university professors recommends I look at the work of one of their students. Sometimes I approach established artists who are unknown outside of Japan and offer them the opportunity to make the West aware of their work. But there are over 10,000 artists in Japan who make a living doing clay. Of that 10,000, 3,000 of them or so make a living by having solo shows. Of those 3,000, there are not even 100 whose work I follow.
Is there anything you miss about having your gallery in your home?
Zero. I have ample closet space for the first time in 30 years. I like not having the phone ring at 11 o’clock at night because it’s noon in Japan. Now they get an answering machine that doesn’t ring in my apartment. Really, there’s absolutely nothing I miss about working from my home, and I don’t think my clients do, either. Originally I thought I would leave a certain percentage of inventory at my house to be seen by special clients, and I found it was totally unnecessary. Within the past six months, I moved everything here.
What do you learn from living with these Japanese ceramic artworks?
They grow on you. It’s taken me a while to understand the work of many of these cutting-edge artists. As I sit here, I’m looking at a piece by one such artist, Katsumata Chieko, and it looks almost like a Georgia O’Keeffe painting come to life. It’s in the shape of a pumpkin, with a red, almost pulsing surface that almost looks like it’s made out of velvet—Katsumata glazes her pieces many, many times and then sands them down. It’s like a Rothko canvas, where you’re seeing color within color within color. The first time I saw one of her works, I had a very hard time liking it. I thought the technique was amazing but that it was not something I wanted to live with. But this piece now sits in my office, and I look at it every day, and it keeps getting better and better. For me, living with these works, whether in my house or in the gallery, has definitely increased my appreciation for and understanding of the art form.