Yutaka Sone

Bringing the outside inside is an established artistic strategy, but rarely is it taken to the lengths Yutaka Sone attains in his recent show at the Renaissance Society, “Forecast: Snow.” Sone transformed its three-thousand-square-foot-plus interior into a timberline wonderland, with a meandering path, a hundred pine trees, and extensive drifts of fake snow. Placed in and around this montanic mock-up were forty-five of his sculptures, paintings, and drawings, all of them reflecting the alpine theme. It was more of a total environment than a simple installation, lining the building’s interior so thoroughly that the functioning of its heating system was impeded, making the gallery appropriately cooler. Weaving through Sone’s constructed hills and valleys had some of the allure of a thrill ride—the sheer spectacle carried towards complete simulacrum, a sort of interior earthwork. “Forecast: Snow” was landscape without land, woods without roots, and snowfall without cold, yet a curious palpability persisted, the residue of scrupulous conviction and attentiveness.

But we shouldn’t lose the precipitation for the forest—as the show’s title indicates, it is snow that concerns Sone, and the various works scattered around the gallery’s walls, floor, pedestals, and vaulted ceiling offer an exhaustive inventory of it. Snow is represented in various guises, from purely natural phenomenon to plaything for humans. The artist’s cataloguing of its components and applications appears almost giddy, even when partially obscured by the tree line.

From both rudimentary and highly detailed drawings scattered across the gallery’s ceiling as if falling from the sky, to marble, plaster, papier-mâché, and crystal carvings, almost all of Sone’s works revisit the old chestnut that no two snowflakes are exactly alike. The flakes’ dramatic hexagonal permutations create crystalline patterns that are reminiscent of the effusive decorative systems of Chicago architect Louis Sullivan. Sone makes the tiny monumental, isolating the ephemeral signature of each flake in the midst of endless accretion.

Sone placed the sculptures and paintings that dealt with snow’s recreational uses around the edge of his environment. His modest paintings of mountains, snowy skies, and the like have an almost plein-air casualness that hints at a similar indolence in the enjoyment of snow as a signifier of elite tourism. But it’s his marble sculpture Ski Lift, 2004–2005, that most readily solicits this reading. Running through a delicately carved pine forest is the intrusive structure of a ski lift, an et in arcadia ego gesture suggesting that nothing in nature is immune from human exploitation. Though rooted in the technology and nostalgia of a department store holiday fir tree display, Sone’s environment won’t play nature to its culture.

James Yood