New York

Yoshihiro Suda

D'Amelio Gallery

When art mimics nature, a tension between perfection and impermanence is usually somewhere in the mix. The artist, copying natural forms with all the loyalty and hubris he or she can muster, makes an image—representing, say, a flower—that has neither life nor fragrance but is not subject to death. So is the mimetic artist a god or an obsessive fool? Both, of course, but, ultimately, that’s not the point: As the Japanese sculptor Yoshihiro Suda reminded us in his first solo show in the United States, the real point of preternatural illusion is simply the wonder of the achievement, the totality of a deception that we know at all times to be false.

Suda makes life-size, highly realistic botanical specimens using stylishly minimal means and subtle humor. Artists like Roxy Paine and Keith Edmier have recently trod similar territory, but where they cast their flowers in inorganic resins, Suda whittles his from wood and painstakingly paints them. The three works included here traced the life cycle of the magnolia tree, so in effect Suda has exerted himself to make new wood from old. The patent absurdity of the project—combined with its undertones of virtual reality, genetic manipulation, and other human interventions into natural production—make the fragile blossoms and flawless stems feel conceptually smart. At the same time, Suda plays on our most shameless appetites for pretty things, in part by using quietly theatrical architecture to call attention to the sculptures as precious, indoor commodities.

Magnolia Leaf and Branch (all works 2000) was an unassuming diptych installed in two screened niches near the gallery windows. The branch—gnarled, about eight inches long—lay on the floor of one niche, while in the other nestled a small pile of dead leaves—a group of real ones scattered as decoys and one shriveled, lacy leaf hewn out of wood. The careless visitor could easily have missed the piece entirely, a camouflage that highlighted its “naturalness.”

Magnolia Fruit and Magnolia Flower were concealed in other ways. A half-height doorway led into a small, dark room with spring-green walls. In a spotlight, a single branch with tapering leaf and bud projected from the wall—several bright-red berries peeped through splits in the bud casing. Hovering in its womblike chamber, Magnolia Fruit looked like an alien creature, the berries almost disturbingly vital. The cooler, more ethereal Magnolia Flower was enshrined in a long, bright corridor, closed at one end with a vellum scrim and only wide enough to accommodate one viewer at a time. A graceful, asymmetrical shadow hovered on the outside of the scrim like a design on silk; inside, fixed to the wall, Magnolia Flower proffered a single, arcing branch, one blossom already partially blown, another on the verge of opening.

Suda engineered these aesthetic dramas without bombast. The high artifice of the objects and their enclosures was mediated by the transparent simplicity of each—just wood, flowers, and walls. In this atmosphere, desire and illusion held full sway. Suda’s installation enveloped visitors in a delicate context where the essential thing to be observed was our own pleasure at being seduced by appearances.

Frances Richard