|Art in America
Published: September 2002
Masayuki Nagare at Jason McCoy
by Janet Koplos
Masayuki Nagare's recent show included one small black-granite sculpture similar to his large public piece that used to stand in the World Trade Center plaza. This small sculpture and a tall stone form in the window behind the desk (not officially part of the show) were reminders of his most famous works, the bladelike stone carvings he began making 40 years ago: reductive, elegant and forceful. Nagare's work was very visible here in the '60s and '70s, with public commissions and shows at Staempfli Gallery and elsewhere, but he gradually withdrew from the American arena until McCoy established a relationship.
The show consisted primarily of recent bronzes (1997-2002) from Nagare's "Sakimori" series. Three large works from this series, which has been under way since 1984, were shown in the gallery's main room and four smaller pieces on pedestals in the second room. Sakimori, according to gallery information, were Japan's frontier guards in bygone days, assigned to lonely outposts. The silhouette of the works makes a strong figurative association--think of the Oscar statuette--yet most of the sculpture shown does not have bodily contours but rather blocky surfaces recalling the wall of a stone quarry. It is a more active surface than that of the stone blades, full of incident, yet as impermeable as a carapace.
The large pieces are 68 to 76 inches tall, and, standing on low plinths, the figures are well over life-size. In posture they are heroic and reassuring. At the same time the forms are containers, with a rectangular opening cut through the "chest" area. One imagines that they might be guardians for an entrance gate or a crossroad, meant to hold a lantern or a votive candle. A central hollow in a figure is curious, but Nagare probably does not mean to imply that these are people without cores. In Buddhism, the void is positive, an opportunity; here the implication is that light and a view of the world come through.
The small "Sakimori" pieces are 22 to 32 inches tall. The earliest (1998) is a dark, stony green. Its structural blocks are combed with fine scars. The other small works have a lighter green patina, often streaky, as if they had been exposed to the elements. One has a belt resembling fine cords at the base of the "torso." The smallest is made of polished bronze and suggests an antique bronze mirror. But instead of a reflection, it frames a view of nothing, or everything. This piece also reproduces the cord wrapping, but here the "head" gets the treatment. The collarlike wrapping seems to turn the head into a cartouche.
Nagare, 79, works within the modernist tradition; his sculptures are discrete objects with commanding spatial presence. He also encompasses Japanese traditions. The integrity and isolation of each work, especially when coupled with the cord-wrapping effect, recall the Shinto practice of singling out natural objects that have numinous qualities by draping them with a line of rope.