Kishio Suga

Kishio Suga is a representative artist of Mono-ha, the Japanese avant-garde movement of the late ’60s and the ’70s, which presented sculpture as a unique object or “thing” that alters spectators’ perceptions rather than as an aesthetic object. Using everyday and industrial materials, and constructing objects with a minimum show of technique, Mono-ha shared its formal and conceptual goals with Minimalism and arte povera. Suga, in particular, emphasized the importance of the relation between created objects and the surrounding space, as well as the mutual impingement of things placed in relation to one another, resulting in the emergence of a new space. Maintaining that the immediately visible is only part of the complex totality of an object, Suga tried to capture its multiplicity through the changing impressions induced by its surfaces and materials. He considers the spectator an active agent in realizing the multiplicity of the object and attempts to encourage this realization by dividing the space with artificial boundaries, or by using anonymous fragments metonymically to allow gestural details, colors, or textures to evoke memories of specific cultural experiences.

Suga’s latest exhibition demonstrated his ability to make the spectator experience the unfolding of space irrespective of the specific atmosphere of the site. In the main gallery of the exhibition, for instance, he placed five pieces of sculpture and hung eight large rectangular panels of wood—painted in white, dull red, dark green, and coal black—on the walls. A sculpture near the center of the room consisted of a black cubic iron frame containing a freestanding object made of squares of coarse-grained wood placed one on top of another. Depending on where one stands, this object can take one or another of the colored panels, or one of the other objects in the room, as its backdrop.

In spite of the predominance of geometrical design, the space was infused with a sense of indeterminacy. Every object was part of an archipelago, which could be placed in different constellations by the spectator. The impression of fluidity was enhanced by Suga’s deliberate confusion of the assumptions of three- and two-dimensionality. Seen from the entrance, the black cubic framework resembled a drawing, while white or colored panels on the back wall looked like paintings. Elliptical forms have been cut into the surfaces of the panels to reveal their insides, with layers presenting the depth and the complex structure of the material. From a distance, however, these cuts recall the inlaid gold patterns seen throughout Japanese design, for instance in seventeenth-century painted screens. Instead of culturally delimiting Suga’s work, such associations emphasize his affinity with the spirit of abstraction inherent in the traditional arts of Japan: The colors evoke the black earth, red blossoms, and green leaves of a camellia tree, under the snow, with gold circles of light dancing upon them; the translation of such powerful impressions into matte areas of color indicates a conceptual attitude toward nature. Within the white walls of the gallery, Suga created an elegant playground of perception by encouraging the intersection of painting and sculpture, traditional Japanese design and modernist abstraction; he challenged spectators to form disparate visual elements into unique “landscapes” of their own.

In spite of its apparent return to standard sculptural presentation, the installation reflects Suga’s sustained belief in the plural determination of the thing’s singular presence. His use of wood as a medium especially embodies his idea of the surface as the place in which heterogeneous aspects of a thing are revealed. Compared with his works from the ’70s and ’80s, on view in two other rooms, the new works reinforce his idea that the visible is only the entrance to the complex structures that determine our understanding of the phenomenal world.

Midori Matsui