For many people, the term “ceramic art” conjures up the image of functional ware on a dinner table: cups and bowls filled with food and drink, or perhaps ornate European platters or wabi-sabi Japanese teapots. To others, it may mean terra-cotta figurines or simply sculpture that uses clay as its primary material. But for veteran clay-artist Kosho Ito, “ceramic art” is both a calling to which he has dedicated his entire life and a restrictive label that he refuses to embrace.

“Once people create a system, it’s impossible to destroy,” said Ito, sitting in front of his sprawling white installation “Eros of Alumina,” now on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo as part of his retrospective, “Kosho Ito Works 1974-2009, Order and Chaos.” “When the system is being created, becoming a part of it is easy, but once you are in, it’s hard to get out.”

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