Milan

Hidetoshi Nagasawa

Galleria Valeria Belvedere

The sculptures of Nagasawa are characterized by a balance between Orient and Occident, a balance that was more than ever apparent in this show of seven new works (all but one from 1988). From the East, he has drawn from his experiences as a student of the martial arts (he is a karate champion), with the meditative and philosophical depth that that implies; to the West (he lives in Milan), he owes his attitude toward artmaking—as an expression of form and a translation of materials—under the constant stimulus of present and past works of art.

The show began with Ponte di pietra (Stone bridge), which spanned the gallery entrance above the heads of the viewers. For this work, Nagasawa had sawed the trunk of a maple tree into five sections (cutting them at an angle), painted the ends of each piece blue, and arranged them like the voussoirs of an inverted arch between two walls of the gallery. Although Nagasawa followed traditional principles of masonry construction, his inversion of the classic arch form suggested the idea of a reflected image given solid form, and at the same time it instilled a vaguely threatening sense of the possibility of collapse. The second large-scale work was Il Muro (The wall), eight brass panels that Nagasawa hung together a couple of inches away from the wall, like the panels of a screen that is stretched out and suspended, and topped with a cornice of verdigris-covered brass. Across the front of the panels, parallel to the cornice, he has placed seven very narrow horizontal brass rods of various sizes (they span from nearly three to just over five panels each). Thus blocked, it is no longer a screen, but is transformed into a wall, and from a wall into a landscape. The sticks give the idea of a broad-stroked landscape, but at the same time recall similar sticks used in the construction of wood or bamboo enclosures, which are another sort of wall.

Centauro osserva i pesci (Centaur observes fishes), is a classic example of a sculpture that Nagasawa based on an earlier work of art. The title is the same as that of a painting by Arnold Böcklin now in the Kunsthaus in Zurich. In the Böcklin work, the centaur is watching the fishes in the water. Nagasawa’s piece is made up of five cones of brass covered with a patina of verdigris, suspended one over the other and filled with water containing live small red fishes: in order to look at them, we become the centaur. A similar associative process informs Leone di Ezechiele (Ezekiel’s lion), a box of brass tubes, empty except at the front, which is covered with nailed sheets of brass. A profusion of brass strips emerges from the empty sides to the right and left, like the mane of a lion. This iconic image seems to be a poetic reference, an object for meditating on the biblical tale of Ezekiel who, after having met God, told of having seen him with a lion, a bull, an eagle, and a man. Mimetico (Camouflage) is an iconic image with a more overtly Eastern appearance. It looks like a Tibetan mandala made with a hexagon of iron strips crossed by diagonals of the same material; a strip of brass blackened with sulphur on one side passes among the diagonals of this abstract spider’s web.

Nagasawa’s sculptures have their source in his meditation on the world and on humanity. His work is about the process of abstraction—the transformation of an idea from one realm to another—and how the particular ingredients and methods of construction determine the meaning(s) to be construed from the form(s) that it is given. Like two halves, placed in his right and left hands, meditation and plasticity intersect in his work, but always remain divisible: a work matters in terms of what it allows one to observe and to imagine about the reasons behind life.

Jole de Sanna

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.