New York

Nagare

Staempfli Gallery

The Japanese sculptor Nagare shows impressive monoliths at Staempfli and once more points up the appalling decline of direct stone sculpture in the West. The key to Nagare’s successes lies in his profound grasp of the specific material nature of each stone he works and his respectful way of letting it have quite a say about the kind of image it will form. This is not the hokey “regard for the sense of the block” which led a whole generation of American sculptors to think that they could let the rocks do the thinking for them, but rather an approach to the material with a formal proposal which is then agreed to conditionally.

One does not often see, maintained throughout an ouevre, the enormous patience required to establish such a relationship between an artistic image and a material as unyielding as the black or red granite Nagare favors.

Nagare’s imagery is either concerned with physical phenomena as in “Centripetence,” its annular form open slightly at the bottom to allow it to torque through space, or with concretizations of the artist’s experience of nature. The red granite “Cloud Mirror” establishes a cosmic scale in its miniature naturescape far grander than Noguchi’s environmental essays in any scale. The form of these stone pieces seems to have been assumed by the material as much as to have been liberated from within it. Exquisite contrasts between polished and scrabbly surfaces intensifies the pathos of this arrangement. One or two of the pieces such as “Meditation” suggest figuration for a moment, but then subside with dignity into an elegant stoniness that shows up as paltry the very idea of literal imagery in so marvellous a material.

In his wood pieces Nagare lays gaudily lacquered eggs. The restraint of his formal vocabulary is here quite at odds with the material and so the pieces expire in languorous triviality. Stained red and lacquered gold, these pieces have an elegance for the masses that the art buyer for a Japanese import store might feel is too fraudulent to be marketable. Several bronzes patinated “all ’antica” suffer from the same decadence. Nagare’s exceptional gifts show only in his superb stone pieces.

Dennis Adrian