Joseph Becherer for The Grand Rapids Press

Our Chief Curator and Vice President for Collections and Exhibitions and the Lena Meijer Professor in the History of Art at Aquinas College Joseph Becherer is lending his knowledge to MLive / The Grand Rapids Press during ArtPrize. Below are links to his columns, all of which (including previous years columns) are available on MLive’s website.

Behind the scenes of Meijer Gardens’ 2015 ArtPrize exhibit (September 19, 2015)

“Age of Good Fortune Island: KoiNoboru” by Japanese ceramic artist Kyoko Tokumaru sits on display for ArtPrize at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015. (Neil Blake |

ArtPrize invites us to focus our conversations (September 21, 2015)

Tracie Alt walks near Craig Colorussso ‘s ArtPrize entry “Sun Boxes” at Calder Plaza in Grand Rapids Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015. The entry features solar powered speakers playing music. Alt, who is from Grand Rapids, said she is alway excited about ArtPrize. (Cory Morse |

ArtPrize 2015 venue review: Kendall College at Federal Building (September 25, 2015)

ArtPrize entry

ArtPrize entry “You Imagine What You Desire” by Nathan Coley hangs outside at The Fed Galleries at the Kendall College of Art and Design on Monday, Sept. 21, 2015. The words are one aspect of Coley’s entry. (Neil Blake |

ArtPrize 2015 venue review: UICA (September 25, 2015)

Heather Brammeier's

Heather Brammeier’s “This Mortal Coil” sits on display at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts in Grand Rapids on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015. The projects all relate to one or more of the senses including sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch and beyond. (Neil Blake |

ArtPrize 2015 venue review: Grand Rapids Art Museum (September 25, 2015)

Artist Judith Braun discusses her ArtPrize entry

Artist Judith Braun discusses her ArtPrize entry “As Above” that is featured at the Grand Rapids Art Museum during a preview tour on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015. Braun used her finger tips, dipped in charcoal, to create the symmetrical piece of abstract foliage and flowers. (Emily Rose Bennett |

ArtPrize 2015 venue review: SiTE:LAB’s Rumsey Street Project (September 28, 2015)

Mark Dean Veca's

Mark Dean Veca’s “Pony Show,” pictured Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015, will be part of ArtPrize’s SiTE:LAB Rumsey Street Project. (Cory Morse |

How Jurors’ Shortlist focuses vast field of entries (September 29, 2015)

ArtPrize-goers look at Kunihiro Akinaga's entry

ArtPrize-goers look at Kunihiro Akinaga’s entry “Mimesis” at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids Friday, Sept. 25, 2015. This entry is on the 2015 Jurors’ Shortlist in the 3D category. (Cory Morse |


The diversity and complexity of objects that are on display during Tradition and Innovation: Japanese Ceramics Now is extraordinary. While some works speak clearly to the history of Japanese ceramics, most offer more thoughtful and expressive sculptural interpretations of just how broadly ceramics are thought of today. As a result, the great diversity represented in these 25 works also mirrors the authentic diversity available in the art world today.

Below we introduce you to the final five artists that are participating in Tradition and Innovation: Japanese Ceramics Now, our 2015 ArtPrize exhibition:

Akio Tanino – Tricolored Earthenware with Sedimentary Lines and Geometric Pattern – Vote Code 61609
“The slab building method of bonding a ceramic box. After subjected to drying the three types of geometric patterns are applied over the entire surface in three colors of slip, and finished by putting a thin line with its own inlay technique. This work was produced in the thought of harmony with the relationship between modeling and design.”

Tricolored Earthenware with Sedimentary Lines and Geometric Pattern by Akio Tanino

Tricolored Earthenware with Sedimentary Lines and Geometric Pattern by Akio Tanino

Hiroshi Taruta – Beams of Light – Vote Code 61447
“As depicted in the title “Beams of Light,” rays of light spread, expressing the manner in which light emits.”

Beams of Light by Hiroshi Taruta

Beams of Light by Hiroshi Taruta

Kyoko Tokumaru – Age of Good Fortune Island: KoiNoboru Island – Vote Code 61993
“I think that one origin of art is ritual and tribute. In the form of a tribute to God in the world, such as a sacred island and mountain model is a device for inviting the gods who are in the sky, that was a spirit-dwelling object there are many such things. The “good luck (“Ugafushima” in Okinawan), has the image of a holy island’s Gathering Miroku-sama of appearing as such ideal world, and God and Shenzhen.”

Age of Good Fortune Island: KoiNoboru Island by  Kyoko Tokumaru

Age of Good Fortune Island: KoiNoboru Island by Kyoko Tokumaru

Aico TsumoriA Mermaid Buys Shoes – Vote Code 61464
“In Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid”, a mermaid receives legs in exchange for her voice. The ending is a sad one, in which the mermaid becomes one with the bubbles in the sea, but this mermaid is looking at a catalog and buying high heels.”

A Mermaid Buys Shoes by Aico Tsumori

A Mermaid Buys Shoes by Aico Tsumori

Akira Yamada – Shoujou red colored jar with lid – Vote Code 62257
“By putting a lid on this work I am expressing a closed space. I was inspired by the atmosphere of Chinese painted earthenware and started to make this ceramic. I use a lathe to try to make soft lines that express by body rhythm. To aim for a strong and more delicate texture, I used both under-glaze painting and over-glaze painting, and baked the ceramic numerous times for a deeper red.”

Shoujou red colored jar with lid by Akira Yamada

Shoujou red colored jar with lid by Akira Yamada

Tradition and Innovation: Japanese Ceramics Now is ArtPrize at Meijer Gardens and runs through January 3, 2016.


Tradition and Innovation: Japanese Ceramics Now is an important exhibition for Meijer Gardens in several ways. “It continues our thoughtful examination of Japanese culture initiated with Splendors of Shiga: Treasures from Japan and it furthers our celebration of the opening of The Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden – each remarkable and meaningful events in the history of this organization” said Joseph Becherer, Vice President and Chief Curator.

Below, we introduce you to five more of the artists participating in our 2015 ArtPrize exhibition and their works.

Chika Shiraki – Life – Vote Code 61492
“Life. Being born. Growing. Living. Life. The many things that are born inside of me from hints from these things. A world in which you live in. A world which keeps you alive. A world being born.”

Life by Chika Shiraki

Life by Chika Shiraki

Seika Takahashi – Tea of Spring – Vote Code 62305
“This is the tea pottery I have been making since I was a student. By overlapping and remaking many times they have changed little by little. The feeling I had the first time I saw this tea pottery, bringing its form to reality has become the driving force of the current of my work in pottery. Twisting the lid and body together while the body and the bottom portion of the lid of the pot in the form of a race is this improved version, it is a mechanism so that the lid does not come off. The sugar pot has a mechanism that the pattern of the lid and the body fits and complimented by the spoon. The tea cup and the saucer have become uneven patterns that fit. From the shape is the image the bud of a plant, I put “spring” in the title.”

Tea of Spring by Seika Takahashi

Tea of Spring by Seika Takahashi

Kazuki Takemura – Growing1401 – Vote Code 61063
“In a hemisphere shaped plaster hold I put together parts which I made with the hand forming technique, and created the shape. It is strong against dry air and heat because of the cluster of hexagon shapes and the arch pattern on the cross sections. It is a geometric pattern, but is flexible in making the most of the clay’s organic nature because it was made with the hand forming technique.”

Growing1401 by Kazuki Takemura

Growing1401 by Kazuki Takemura

Yoko Tanaka – Storm -Night- – Vote Code 61675
“I create on the foundational theme of “turning a moment into eternity.” A moment that moved my heart is consumed within me, is replaced with porcelain using soil, believing that perhaps I might thereby be able express sheathed transience and the powerful beauty that is included in the moment. The concept of this work, based on that has to express the powerful beauty of life that wriggle at night. I created a piece with the feeling of the transience of the moment and the power of life of wriggling insects that gather to light on a summer’s evening. It is my hope that those who view this work will feel that moment becomes an eternal moment.”

Swarm -Night- by Yoko Tanaka

Swarm -Night- by Yoko Tanaka

Yutaka Tanaka – Mud Ring Platter – Vote Code 61622
“British old pottery slip ware charmed me as a modern Japanese to produce such a piece in my own sense.”

Mud Ring Platter by Yutaka Tanaka

Mud Ring Platter by Yutaka Tanaka


Tradition and Innovation: Japanese Ceramics Now brings together twenty-five of the leading ceramics artists from across Japan. Most of these artists are widely recognized and critically acclaimed in Japan, few have exhibited here in the United States. This exhibition truly is a must see experience here at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park!

Continuing our series introducing you to the artists who are a part of our 2015 ArtPrize and fall exhibition, here are five more artists to get to know:

Naoto NakataTWINS – for Maple in Minneapolis – Vote Code 61572

TWINS - for Maple in Minneapolis by Naoto Nakata

TWINS – for Maple in Minneapolis by Naoto Nakata

Ado OdaGold and Silver Octagonal Ceramic Box “Bamboo Accent” – Vote Code 61503
“Toubako (a ceramic box) with bamboo design represented in gold and silver colored printed figures (over enamels).”

Gold and Silver Octagonal Ceramic Box "Bamboo Accent" by Ado Oda

Gold and Silver Octagonal Ceramic Box “Bamboo Accent” by Ado Oda

Nobuyuki OgawaPhantom – Vote Code 61018
“With the mental image of a flower as the motif a skeletonized thing was formed.”

Phantom by Nobuyuki Ogawa

Phantom by Nobuyuki Ogawa

Sayaka OishiAccessories – Vote Code 61360
“Whenever I create I always think about the ties between forms and accessories. I also try to make good use of the glaze which is original to ceramics. There are many animal and plant based accessories around the human in my work, but these all represent ‘greed’ and ‘nature’.”

Accessories by Sayaka Oishi

Accessories by Sayaka Oishi

Junji Setsu – Irosuminagashi “Moon Flower” – Vote Code 61791
“I imagined a beautiful picture in which the moonlight lights up the surface of water at night. This piece can also be seen as a flower, which is why I named it “Moon Flower”. The Irosuminagashi technique which I created myself makes it possible to capture one moment in nature. This seems to be connected with the fleeting beauty of life. It was created with the feel of the Japanese concept of beauty and nature. Irosuminagashi was created by myself and nature conversing and coming into harmony, and I think that the appealing part of this technique is that you can never make the same pattern twice.”

Irosuminagashi "Moon Flower" by Junji Setsu

Irosuminagashi “Moon Flower” by Junji Setsu


For centuries, functional and decorative ceramic arts in Japan have been appreciated and collected across the globe. In many ways, Japanese ceramics have become iconic references for Japanese culture at large. Tradition and Innovation: Japanese Ceramics Now illustrates that ceramics are a living and expanding tradition, and many of today’s leading artists are highly inventive, exhibiting great creativity in form, content and technique.

Continuing our series introducing you to the artists who are a part of our 2015 ArtPrize and fall exhibition, here are five more artists to get to know:

Yucho Kobayashi – Shigaraki Rippled Large Jar – Vote Code 61968
“As someone who actually makes Shigaraki pottery using the long-standing traditional anagama kiln, I tried to fire an organic large jar with a rippled pattern in an anagama kiln with innovation in mind.”

Shigaraki Rippled Large Jar by Yucho Kobayashi

Shigaraki Rippled Large Jar by Yucho Kobayashi

Atsuko Kubota – Pale-blue Glazed Geometric Patterned Platter – Vote Code 62522
“The geometric pattern of this blue porcelain (pale-blue glaze) platter is a continuous structure of a repeating pattern of squares rotated twice. Over the spread latticework, squares open vertical and horizontal gaps, regularly overlapping, the lattice under the arrangement of the the squares does not overlap at an angle. The process of arranging distinct geometric patterns is the same abstract expression as a music composer. Finding a new geometric effects is a great pleasure. Although such designs are readily expressed in drawing, it is very difficult in pale-blue porcelain.”

Pale-blue Glazed Geometric Patterned Platter by Atsuko Kubota

Pale-blue Glazed Geometric Patterned Platter by Atsuko Kubota

Toru Kurokawa – Garden – Vote Code 61002
“This work was created in a primitive way, with the shape, structure, patterns, and the anagama kiln being brought into effect. I wish for people to rethink their ties with nature, and wonder about their identities as a race.”

Garden by Toru Kurokawa

Garden by Toru Kurokawa

Jun Matsumura – S.S.T.P. – Vote Code 61632
“A super flat era was the background for making the tea pot. This craft evolved alongside lifestyle. In the functional designs that are selected, I incorporate the expression of my modern life in the form.”

S.S.T.P. by Jun Matsumura

S.S.T.P. by Jun Matsumura

Chiyo Nagaoka – First Stage – Vote Code 61432
“Prologue of “the form of the vessel within me” that continues to move without having to stay. Wishes and prayers are pictured as if they are spun with thread.”

First Stage by Chiyo Nagaoka

First Stage by Chiyo Nagaoka

Meet The 2015 ArtPrize Artists – Part 1

Tradition and Innovation: Japanese Ceramics Now is a highly unique exhibition bringing together 25 of the leading ceramics artists from across Japan. Although most are widely recognized and critically acclaimed in their native country, few have exhibited in the United States – making this a must see exhibition experience.

Over the next few weeks, we will be introducing you to the participating artists in their own words and showing you their works. All 25 masters participating in the exhibition are Japanese, making this the first all-national venue in ArtPrize history!

Kunihiro AkinagaMimesis – Vote Code 61089
“I use the bones of animals for my theme – decoration. I form and design the patterns on each bone and copy them on to a paper pattern and create them using the hand forming technique. After firing, I put all of the parts together in a skeletal structure. My image of decorations are the excess decorations of temples and churches – the view of the world between life and death. I also feel that by decorating, the truth of things gets hidden. For example, in our lives the packaging and decoration of our food diverts our attention from the death of animals. By using the concept of decorations you can find modernity even in something universal such as life and death.”

Mimesis by Kunihiro Akinaga

Mimesis by Kunihiro Akinaga

Tadami Hirota – Gold and Silver Colorful Bush Clover Pattern Small Container with Lid – Vote Code 61021
“The bush clover that sways in the wind appears often in “Manyoushuu”. I expressed lovely, beautiful curves in the form of a round container with a lid.”

Gold and Silver Colorful Bush Clover Pattern Small Container with Lid

Gold and Silver Colorful Bush Clover Pattern Small Container with Lid by Tadami Hirota

Masami HosokawaTake A Flight – flying form –  Vote Code 62521
“‘Flying’, ‘swelling’, ‘spreading’, ‘dreams’, ‘hope’, ‘the universe’, ‘infinity’ – I gave one form to all things that are positive.”

Take a Flight - flying form - by Masami Hosokawa

Take a Flight – flying form – by Masami Hosokawa

Tetsuya Ishiyama – Inlaid Colorful Earthenware Pot – Vote Code 61239
“By using an inlaid technique I created a geometric pattern, by which I expressed the stereoscopic effect of overlapping cloths.”

Inlaid Colorful Earthenware Pot by Tetsuya Ishiyama

Inlaid Colorful Earthenware Pot by Tetsuya Ishiyama

Seigo Kaneyuki – Band of Light  – Vote Code 61153
Created by its original technique called “Ligne Hotaru”, it has developed from the traditional Japanese technique “Hotarude”. Its delicate lines of light take us to the other side of everyday life.

Band of Light by Seigo Kaneyuki

Band of Light by Seigo Kaneyuki



Plants in The Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden

A Japanese Garden is not a collection of Japanese plants, but rather a garden style steeped in centuries of tradition.  The three essential elements in a Japanese Garden are rocks, water and plants.  It is the plants that provide seasonal changes and color in the garden.

Plants in a Japanese garden do not need to be native to Japan.

While The Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden includes plants that are native to Japan, it also features plants native to Michigan and other temperate climates throughout the world. All of the plants were sourced from nurseries in the United States. The important things to notice are how the plants are planted, how they are pruned and the way they are nurtured.

Ten prominent plants in The Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden:

Pines are one of the most important trees in a Japanese Garden.  They can act as a backdrop or be meticulously pruned. Trees or woody shrubs in a Japanese garden are called “niwaki”.  Niwaki are carefully pruned to represent the “idealized form of a tree.”

  • Niwaki Austrian pines, Pinus nigra, are located outside the entry gate and throughout the Japanese Garden. Austrian pines are also planted around the perimeter of the Japanese Garden to provide screening.
  • A specimen Scotch pine, Pinus sylvestris, is located at the entrance to the Cherry Tree Promenade. This is known as the “gate pine.” Scotch pines can also be found among boulders at the waterfalls. Notice the lovely orange bark on older specimens!
  • Additional pines include the mugo pines, Pinus mugo, Eastern white pines, Pinus strobus, and Japanese white pines, Pinus parviflora.

Niwaki Pine

Japanese maples, Acer palmatum, are used throughout the garden.  Notice the different forms, leaf shapes and colors. In Japan, their brilliant autumn colors are a big attraction. Japanese maples also make great bonsai specimens. There are more than 700 different cultivars and the leaf shape varies considerably. Our Japanese Garden has more than eight different cultivars and these include ‘Butterfly’, ‘Nuresagi’, ‘Sangokaku’, ‘Bloodgood’, and ‘Crimson Queen.’

Japanese Maple

Japanese flowering cherries are featured in the Cherry Tree Promenade and along the shore near the Zig-Zag Bridge.  Our garden features upright, weeping and contorted forms. They typically bloom in mid to late-April (depending on weather conditions and the variety) and peak bloom lasts for about one week. The flowering cherry (sakura) is the national flower of Japan. They are celebrated every spring with cherry blossom “viewing parties.”  Even the falling petals are admired.

Serviceberry, Amelanchier spp., is an example of a tree that is native to our region and planted throughout the Japanese Garden, including at the Main Gate.  It has small white flowers in the spring, followed by small red to dark purple fruits that attract birds.  In the fall the leaves turn a lovely orange-red color.

Wisterias have been grown in traditional Japanese gardens for more than 1,000 years. Wisterias are featured on an arbor between the North and South Waterfalls.  They produce pendulous clusters of lavender flowers in the spring. Wisteria plants can live for hundreds of years!


Spireas are native to Japan and a new cultivar called ‘Double Play Gold’ is featured on the Mike and Sue Jandernoa Viewing Hill.  It produces golden yellow foliage and pink flowers throughout the summer. As they grow they will provide a low, undulating effect. 

Azaleas can be found throughout the Japanese Garden.  Lovely flowers cover the plants in the spring. We planted many different types in a variety of colors. Most of the azaleas we planted are evergreen.  Notice several lovely, large specimens tucked in amongst the large boulders at the waterfalls.


Many people are surprised to learn that some kinds of bamboo are winter hardy in Michigan. We planted ‘Yellow Groove’ bamboo (Phyllostachys aureosulcata forma aureocaulis) and Incense bamboo (Phyllostachys atrovaginata) near the Zig-Zag Bridge, Tea House, and restrooms. Incense bamboo is named for its fragrance—it produces a wax on its stems (culms) that has a fragrance similar to sandalwood. Bamboo can be found growing in the wild throughout Japan. It is also a part of daily life and is used in many different ways—to make fences, brushes, rakes, chopsticks, bowls, flooring, scaffolding etc. Bamboo symbolizes strength and flexibility.


Hundreds of Japanese irises, Iris cristata and Iris versicolor ‘Gerald Darby’, are growing in the water and along the shore near the Zig-Zag Bridge. They bloom in early summer and will produce a stunning display of blooms.

Japanese Iris

While many people try to eliminate moss from their gardens, in Japan it is regarded as an essential element. It grows over boulders and across the ground. There are more than 100 different types of moss. This lovely plant does not have true roots and absorbs moisture and nutrients through its leaves. It thrives in climates with high humidity and surprisingly, it can be difficult to grow. It can take many years for moss to form a dense mat. In our Japanese Garden we have a section called the “Natural Style Moss Garden” where you will see just how beautiful moss can be overtime.

MossPlants are used in unique ways in the Japanese Garden.

In a Japanese Garden, trees are often planted on an angle—on purpose!  In our Japanese Garden you’ll notice this is most common along the edges of the ponds, but you can see it in other places too. This echoes what happens in nature—branches extend over the water to reach the sunlight, their shallow roots don’t provide as much support in the steep, moist soil and the trees lean.

Plants are tucked in small pockets of earth between the boulders. You’ll see this in many areas of our Japanese Garden, including the approach to the Tea House. Along this path, the uneven stones require you to look down and watch your footing. Here you will see plants growing “naturally” between the stones and boulders, much as you would experience in nature.

Bamboo is used in a variety of structures, including the fence near the Tea House and the wisteria arbor. The largest canes come from a class of bamboo known as timber bamboos.

Some pines are meticulously pruned.  This is done in the spring and autumn and requires great skill and patience to do this correctly.

In Japanese gardens, groupings of shrubs, often azaleas, are clipped into organic shapes that suggest mountains, waves, boulders, clouds or clumps of trees. This is different than European topiary, which is more formal or geometric. This is not obvious now, but you will see this develop over time.

The Cherry Tree Promenade features several different varieties and forms of Japanese flowering cherry trees, including weeping, upright and contorted forms. The promenade also includes large boulders and views of a tranquil waterfall. The intention is to help visitors leave cares and concerns behind before you enter the garden.

Lawn, which is so prevalent in American gardens, is used in only one area in our Japanese Garden—it is included in the gathering area at the north end of the Cherry Tree Promenade.

About 15-20 bonsai are prominently featured in the Bonsai Garden, displayed from April through November (weather permitting).