“From a Pedestal into Space,” at The National Museum of Art, Osaka (NMAO), is Yuji Takeoka’s first major retrospective in Japan, featuring works from the 1980s to today.
On entering the museum’s vast gallery space, you will find it populated with minimalist sculptures of different forms and sizes in a meticulously organized composition — some hanging on the walls, others sitting on the floor. Made from a variety of materials, including terra cotta, wood, glass, artificial marble, bronze and polished brass, they add texture and color to the space. Up close they start to look a little like architectural elements of different kinds of buildings.
Born in Kyoto in 1946, Takeoka studied art at Kyoto City University of Arts before moving to Dusseldorf, Germany, where he continued his studies and began showing his work during the early ’80s. He first started garnering attention with his “pedestal sculptures,” a series of pedestals — the kind used to display art — that he transformed into artworks. He later developed other unique concepts, including “spatial presentation” — an exploration of the acts of seeing and presenting artwork.
His use of construction materials appears to reference European architecture. “Wall Pedestal” a terra-cotta sculpture resembles a Corinthian capital, evoking the entrances and courtyards of many museum buildings. “Untitled,” a low trapezoid pedestal also made of terra cotta, is reminiscent of residential houses in Italy, while the wooden partition “Shiriki” and polished brass pillar “Standing Sculpture I” recall the dividing walls and light fixtures in the buildings designed by Mies Van der Rohe and other modernist architects.
These pedestals are no longer utilitarian — they exist as beautiful independent artworks. Yet their elegant presence make them look like architectural additions to the space, as if they belong there, rather than as temporary exhibits in the museum.
Outside this main room of the show is “Clean Room Japan,” a cubic sculpture constructed of aluminum frames, glass and artificial marble. This enclosed empty space is the size of a 4.5-tatami-mat room, in which viewers find themselves focusing on the space itself, their physical presence reflecting in the glass. Unlike the other sculptures that often evoke other spaces, this work offers a strong connection to its surroundings — the here and now.
Takeoka’s ability to prompt the imagination and elicit thoughts of remote places while leaving the viewer consciously in the present is just one of the artist’s many skills that make his transformation of precise forms and beautiful textures into sculptures such a joy to view.
“Yuji Takeoka: From a Pedestal into Space” at The National Museum of Art, Osaka runs until March 21; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. ¥430. Closed Mon., except March 21. www.nmao.go.jp