Tea and Zen

Free entry

NGV International

Temporary Exhibition Space 1, Level G

15 Apr 10 – 29 Aug 10

Tea was cultivated in China thousands of years ago. Chinese scholars took on tea drinking as a form of relaxation from the cares of everyday life. Chinese Zen (Chan in Chinese) Buddhist monks drank tea to stay awake during long hours of meditation. In the Tang dynasty (618-906), the `Tea Classic’, the first book on tea in the world, was written by Lu Yu, a Chinese scholar-official, on the cultivation and preparation of tea.

Tea was introduced to Japan in the Asuka and Nara periods (538-794) by Japanese Buddhist monks who travelled to Tang China and returned to Japan with the Chinese products and inventions of paper making, printing, written script and importantly tea and its utensils. However it wasn’t until the Muromachi period (1333- 1568) that the unique Japanese aesthetic of Wabi Sabi “beauty in imperfection” was developed and culminated in the practice and teachings of the great tea master, Sen no Rikyu during the Momoyama period (1568-1600).

This exhibition will show tea utensils in the form of ceramics, lacquer and bamboo and also Zen paintings and calligraphy to create a contemplative setting to evoke the spirit of the `Way of Tea’.

We will present the history of tea in China and Japan and its spiritual connections with Zen Buddhism. We will explore the philosophical meanings underlying the `Way of Tea’ in both China and Japan and make artistic and cultural comparisons.

Finally we will draw attention to tea’s continuing practice in present day Japanese culture – the tea ceremony (cha-no-yu) and its influence on contemporary Japanese artists.

Key Works