New York

Yuriko Yamaguchi

Penine Hart Gallery

Eight of Yuriko Yamaguchi’s cryptic wall assemblages are featured in this show. Each is made up of an arrangement of strange, possibly symbolic objects, made of stained or polychromed wood. All are presented either directly on the wall or against backdrops that seem less like frames than breeding grounds for elementary life forms. Yamaguchi offers us undeciperable hieroglyphs, masterfully allusive configurations and clusters of shapes that escape definitive readings. In The Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud distinguishes between the latent content of a dream—the dream itself—and its manifest content, which is the dream’s residue that survives into our waking memory. He likens this residue to a pictographic script, a picture-puzzle that remains nonsensical if interpreted without recognition of the unconscious process that created it. Much more than the sum of its parts, it is a transcript of the original dream that may be understood not as a coherent narrative, but as a poetic phrase. Yamaguchi’s sculptures are such picture-puzzles, overdetermined poems that reflect an intuitive sensibility at work.

In Origin #1 (all works, 1989), quivering biomorphic shapes, suspended in glass jars or on shelves, coexist with snakelike forms of wire and wood. As she has in the past, Yamaguchi includes alternating plus and minus symbols, an explicit clue to a concern with the tension between opposites that permeates her work. Origin #1 and its companion piece, Origin #2, are not coherent answers to the question of origin, but are poetic restatements of the question and its variables.

Yamaguchi’s strength rests in her ability to address fundamental, often weighty issues without relying on trite archetypes. Her enigmatic forms and arrangements give the appearance of having been arrived at intuitively. Seldom overt, her sculptures communicate obliquely. Light is a small tableau in which the juxtaposition of simple elements subtly captures an essential aspect of its subject. Similarly, Full Moon suggests an atmospheric night sky without illustrating one. In both works, the artist has bypassed overused symbols, replacing them with her own more believable, if less accessible, vocabulary. These sculptures, private explorations carried out in a common arena, function on both personal and universal levels. Water and Dream is a rebus of uncanny symbols that hovers just beyond understanding. An open-fronted box contains a mysterious scene: a long, spermlike shape and a ladder both work their way toward a yawning basin, while several biomorphs huddle nearby. Although the shapes look familiar, their arrangement is as unfamiliar as another’s dream recounted in broad daylight. In Storehouse #1 and Storehouse #2, sheaflike shapes bear small empty pouches. One searches in vain for narratives here; the work speaks only when that search is relinquished.

A clue to Yamaguchi’s transformation of private content into universalist form lies in her works’ rich and varied surface textures. Their surfaces betray an evolution that involves a good deal of reworking. By staining or polychroming wood, Yamaguchi has created surfaces that often look and feel like ceramic or stone. This quality of deception is a reminder that the transformation from personal to shared reality can be illusory, and that these sculptures not only reveal, but also conceal.

Jenifer P. Borum