On the heels of the Guggenheim’s recent retrospective of Lee Ufan, this exhibition offers New Yorkers a reintroduction to another of the central figures of the Japanese postwar avant-garde. Noriyuki Haraguchi, born in 1946, works in a rougher and altogether more industrial idiom than the other artists grouped under the designation Mono-ha, and his sculptures and works on paper often veer away from a purely Minimal vocabulary to wrestle with questions of the environment, modernization, and war. Air Pipe B and Air Pipe C, two wall reliefs from 1969, are each painted a brilliant white and bulge from a flat ground into a cylindrical protrusion to the side. They call to mind the factories associated with Japan’s breakneck industrialization of the 1960s––or, more trenchantly, the exhaust of a jet engine on the sort of military aircraft the United States still stations there.
The forms of the airplane, sometimes mimetic and sometimes more abstract, recur throughout Haraguchi’s career. During the student riots in Tokyo of the late 1960s, he created a plywood reproduction of an American jet bound for Vietnam, which police finally destroyed when the university barricades came down. A-7 E Corsair II, 2011, recalls that lost work: It’s a one-to-one replica of the tail of an American fighter jet, though this one is fashioned out of canvas and aluminum and fits into the gallery so narrowly that the viewer has to shuffle past its wing. The sculpture is personal as much as political, though: Yokosuka, the port south of Tokyo from which the US deployed its Vietnam-era forces, is also the artist’s birthplace. The forms of militarism and industry that Haraguchi repurposes may be the signs of Japanese modernity and America’s often brutal contribution to it, but they’re also, just as significantly, the look of home.