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Nobuo Sekine with his sculpture Phase of Nothingness, 1969/70, at the Japanese Pavilion at the 35th Venice Biennale, 1970. Photo: Yoriko Kushigemachi.

Nobuo Sekine (1942–2019)

Conceptual artist Nobuo Sekine—whose ephemeral, site-specific sculptural and installation works were associated with Mono-ha (the School of Things), the postwar Japanese art movement active in the late 1960s to the mid ’70s—died on Monday in Los Angeles. He was seventy-six years old.

Sekine’s Phase—Mother Earth, comprising a seven-feet-wide, nine-feet-deep hole and an accompanying cylinder made of a mixture of earth and cement, was one of the most celebrated works of Mono-ha. Originally enacted in 1968 at the inaugural Contemporary Sculpture Exhibition at Kobe’s Suma Rikyū Park, it is said to have led to the formation of the movement. Other members included Susumu Koshimizu, Katsuro Yoshida, Koji Enokura, and Kishio Suga.

In the May 2012 issue of Artforum, Joan Kee wrote: “Although never bound by a formal association, the Mono-ha artists were nevertheless joined by a shared commitment to what several members identified as a refusal of ‘making,’ or what member Lee Ufan famously explained as a desire to present the world ‘as it is,’ without undue interference on the part of the artist or from viewers’ expectations concerning the artist’s capacity for creation.”

Sekine was born in 1942 in Saitama, Japan, and moved to Tokyo in 1962 to study with artists Yoshishige Saito and Jiro Takamatsu at Tama Art University. In the late 1960s, he became interested in a branch of mathematics conceptualizing the connections and malleability of abstract space, matter, and form. He represented Japan at the Thirty-Fifth Venice Biennale in 1970 with Phase of Nothingness, a sculpture comprising a column of mirrored stainless steel with a marble stone balanced on top. Solo exhibitions of his work have been staged at the Künsthalle Düsseldorf, the Seoul Art Center, and the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk. 

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