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Review: Kishio Suga finds poetry in everyday materials

November 15, 2012|By Holly Myers
  • Kishio Suga's "Tabunritsu [Law of Multitude]" (1975, re-created 2012). It's part of a big show at Blum & Poe.
Kishio Suga's "Tabunritsu [Law of Multitude]" (1975,… (Sam Kahn / courtesy the artist…)

In a welcome follow-up to "Requiem for the Sun," Blum & Poe’s superb survey earlier this year of the art of Japan’s Mono-ha movement, the gallery has assembled another, similarly museum-grade survey exploring the work of one of its leading figures, Kishio Suga.

With 86 works spanning more than 40 years, it is a substantial undertaking — Suga’s first solo exhibition in North America, and the first single-artist show to occupy both floors of the gallery’s prodigious space.

It feels light and fresh, almost spontaneously generative. Indeed, it is a sign of Suga’s great aesthetic ingenuity that despite his reliance on a slim handful of materials — stones, wire, rope, scrap wood — he somehow manages never to repeat himself.

The term Mono-ha, which translates roughly as “school of things,” refers to a group of artists working in Japan in the late 1960s and early 1970s who developed a radically elemental language, combining natural and industrial materials in a manner that echoed aspects of Western Minimalism and Arte Povera while developing material poetics quite its own.

Suga’s works tend to revolve around provisional interactions between a few common objects — “situations,” created by the artist, that serve to emphasize the nature of the existence of each object, however illogical their association.

In one of the most beautiful works, a site-specific installation called "Tabunritsu (Law of Multitude)" from 1975 (like many of the older works, it has been re-created by the artist for the current show), a large plastic sheet suspended horizontally at knee level between the four walls of a room is scattered with football-size stones, each supported from beneath by a short concrete column.

In another, "Shachi Jokyo (Left-Behind Situation)" from 1972, a similar horizontal plane is created by the wall-to-wall crisscrossing of a single length of thick wire, at every intersection of which the artist has balanced a stray scrap of wood.

It is difficult to pinpoint what makes these and many of the other works so magical, except to say that in their diligent yet oddly purposeless refinement they draw from each material some deep intrinsic resonance, as if coaxing it into being exactly what it is. Stones are heavy; plastic sheeting is thin and transparent; concrete is solid and stable. Drawn into collaboration, the three materials generate a curious harmony.

Large-scale installations from the 1970s predominate on the gallery’s ground floor, to stately, often elegant effect. In the upstairs gallery, one finds a very different scene: several dozen smaller, wall-mounted assemblages, most dating to the last 10 years.

Here the tone is playful and exploratory. The works are like three-dimensional sketches, not all of equal caliber but equally dynamic and rigorous in spirit. In the simplest of gestures — the vertical stacking of nine virtually identical two-by-fours; the winding of a black rope through white painted iron mesh — Suga invariably reveals something quite profound.

—Holly Myers  

Blum & Poe, 2727 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 836-2062, through Dec. 22. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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