New York

Kazuko Miyamoto, Untitled String Construction, n.d., hand-dyed cotton, nails, 116 x 27 x 85".

Kazuko Miyamoto, Untitled String Construction, n.d., hand-dyed cotton, nails, 116 x 27 x 85".

Kazuko Miyamoto


Kazuko Miyamoto, Untitled String Construction, n.d., hand-dyed cotton, nails, 116 x 27 x 85".

In 1969, Kazuko Miyamoto was working in her live-in studio at 117 Hester Street when the fire alarm went off. Congregating on the street below with other artists from the building, she met her neighbor Sol LeWitt, and soon after became his assistant. For several decades, she executed his wall drawings and oversaw the production of his modular cube sculptures. Today, the Japanese-American artist is best known for her signature post-Minimalist work, as well as for establishing Gallery Onetwentyeight, a Lower East Side storefront space, in 1986. Fourteen years earlier she had cofounded the feminist cooperative A.I.R. Gallery, where she had solo shows in 1975, 1977, 1979, and 1980.

Miyamoto’s recent exhibition in New York—her first solo show in the city in eleven years—examined the beginnings of her work and featured a judicious selection from the 1970s: geometric, abstract drawings and an undated, kaleidoscopic installation called Untitled String Construction. Though the show invoked LeWitt’s self-imposed restrictions and Agnes Martin’s hand-drawn grids, it also brought to mind drawings by other artists—namely Hanne Darboven, Mirtha Dermisache, Irma Blank, and Nasreen Mohamedi—that are task-based, repetitive, and develop according to their own internal logic. For an untitled graphite and color pencil drawing from 1971, Miyamoto plotted small crosses on graph paper, embedding successively smaller crosses in the resultant white space to generate a fractal-like cosmos of marks. The work evokes an aerial view of a manicured field. She has called the cross motifs in this piece “trees,” and references to nature loop throughout Miyamoto’s oeuvre—note her untitled 1982–83 installation of ten variously sized bridges made of ropes and branches that connected trees in New York’s Bryant Park, as well as Starnest, 1989, a sculpture made of cardboard, a bird’s nest, and mushrooms.

To produce her lithe string constructions, Miyamoto ritualistically performs Minimalism in situ. The first work of this type was marked by simplicity. Created in 1973, it comprised a single organic-cotton thread stretched along the mortar of her studio’s brick wall. But soon, these installations grew larger and more complex. To create the piece in this show, which was based on a work she made for her solo exhibition at 55 Mercer, also in 1973, Miyamoto applied masking tape to a wall in the form of a crooked ladder. She hammered nails into this quirky shape, marking small half circles in pencil between the nails. Then she hammered a second set of nails into the floor, these arranged in a zigzag. Finally, with the help of an assistant, she tightly strung various lengths of her own hand-dyed cotton thread between the two sets of nails. From afar, the work resembles a dysfunctional loom, a stringed instrument, or a web produced by a crackpot spider. And while Fred Sandback’s sublime installations seem an obvious comparison, Miyamoto’s are distinguished for their implicit nod to her hand and for the ways in which they remind us that all stability is an illusion, and that everything that arises passes away.

Lauren O’Neill-Butler