Robert Morris and Kishio Suga’s piece in conversation


Special To The Japan Times

There are just two installations in the exhibition “Robert Morris and Kishio Suga” at Blum & Poe’s fifth-floor gallery in Harajuku: Morris’ “Lead and Felt” and Suga’s “Parameters of Space.” However, there are a number of correspondences between these two artists that make their pairing engrossing and relevant.

Morris, a U.S. sculptor and conceptual artist, is associated with the development of minimal art in the 1960s and Suga with the Japanese Mono-ha group that emerged later that same decade. Mono-ha was informed by minimal art and associated movements, such as land art, so there is a history of call-and-response between the two artists.

Both the works on display are also historical. “Lead and Felt” was first exhibited in 1969 at the Castelli Gallery in New York, and “Parameters of Space” was shown around a decade later in 1978 at Gallery Saiensu in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture. There is a compelling spatial and aesthetic relationship between these related but historically and geographically distinct works.

Typical of his work, Morris’ installation incorporates indeterminacy in that there is no strict formal instruction for its display. For this exhibition, the piece was arranged by the gallery, not by Morris. Suga then installed his work in relation to it. In this sense, both works are new as they respond to their new temporal situation and one another.

Morris’ piece comprises different shapes and sizes of lead and felt, which lie curled and folded around each other. This mass of soft material occupies the window space of the gallery. The alternating dark and light folds mimic the light through the foliage of the trees that can be viewed behind the work in the nearby Yoyogi Park.

“Parameters of Space,” conversely, is more architectural. Four triangular prisms of granite are arranged in a rectangle and surrounding these are small unitary slabs of wood of various hues of green, orange and brown. Wooden units, perpendicular to the others and resembling fallen dominos, run between the stones delineating a boundary. Outside this there is a fifth granite prism, breaking the symmetry of the arrangement.

Different ideas and images are conjured up by the works and their relationship with each other. Both could be associated with politics of space, ideas of occupation or other sociological narratives. But you are always brought back to the materials at hand, the arrangement of elements, the architecture of the room and your position in it.

There is a kind of dialogue in operation, where one work draws attention to a decision or distinct quality in the other and each sets out a field of possibilities within which the imagination can play.

As the late Umberto Eco commented in his 1989 book “The Open Work,” “The form of the work of art gains its aesthetic validity precisely in proportion to the number of different perspectives from which it can be viewed and understood.”

“Robert Morris and Kishio Suga” at Blum & Poe Tokyo runs until May 7; 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Free. Closed Mon.