On a Saturday afternoon four weeks before her solo exhibition is scheduled to open at one of the most important galleries in New York—it will be her first show with this gallery—an artist decides she would like to start some morning glory flowers in the window boxes outside her third-floor apartment. As she steps onto one of the window boxes it gives way and she falls three stories to a parking lot below. Immobile but still conscious, she wonders whether, as a tough New Yorker, her predicament justifies screaming for help. She decides it does, and cries out. “We’ve already called an ambulance,” someone tells her.
Luckily she hasn’t hit her head, but she has broken her hip, an arm, an elbow and one of her vertebrae, as well as suffering damage to her pelvis and knees. She spends two months in Saint Vincent’s Hospital where she undergoes several surgeries to repair her broken bones. While she is recovering she recalls an incident from a recent trip to Japan. During her stay she was invited to someone’s house for tea, which they served in a cup that had been broken and, following the Japanese tradition of kintsugi, visibly repaired with a mixture of lacquer and gold. Laying in her hospital bed, she can’t stop thinking about that cup. If she ever gets out of this place, she tells herself, she is going to make her own kintsugi.
Eventually she is discharged and as soon as she is able begins to put together a collection of small ceramic vessels, some of which are valuable antiques, others mundane items she buys for almost nothing. This diverse gathering of bowls, cups and vases shares one common property: a celadon glaze. With the help of an assistant, she breaks every one of her vessels and then sets about learning how to repair them using kintsugi techniques. For each of the reassembled ceramic containers she makes an elaborate gift box, which she wraps with specially printed paper featuring patterns based on x-rays and photographs of the objects inside. Accompanying the boxes are framed x-rays of the concealed objects. Finally, the boxes are closed with a wax seal that their owners must break if they wish to see the reassembled green vessels within. Six years after her accident, much of which time has been taken up with arduous physical therapy, she exhibits the finished project at a Chelsea gallery under the title “Broken.”