This article showcases various exhibitions in the form of collected exhibition reviews published in the 1997 Winter issue of the Metalsmith Magazine. This features Arline Fisch, Kazuma Oshita, Ken-ichi Suganuma, and more!
Art Metal of Japan
National Ornamental Metal Museum
April 28 – July 7, 1996
By Linda Raiteri
“People who can receive the presence of a work of art may find themselves restored to selves they have half forgotten.” writes sculptor Anne Truitt.
The dissembling mystery of the half-forgotten self is stunningly awakened by the works of the six Japanese master metalsmiths in “Art Metal of Japan”. Objects are not necessarily what they seem. Iron looks like leather; brass looks like paper. Surfaces crack to reveal unsuspected depths.
Curated by Takuya Kosugi, a metalsmith who shares the anthropologist’s fascination with the effects of culture, this exhibition presents contemporary works fabricated within the 2000 year tradition of Japanese metalworking.
In 1988, on his third trip to China, the half-forgotten country of his birth, Takuya Kosugi went into the desert. Growing up in densely populated Japan, he had never experienced such vastness. When he returned, months went by and he could not work. One day he decided to let his hand do the work. He drew a picture. He scribbled in the names of alloys. Unable to capture his vision in three dimensions, he began working in two.
Kosugi’s metalworks look like paintings. In Indian Land, aluminum, gold and silver leaf, and urushi create jagged rock formations against a cobalt sky. In Miyabi I, II, and III (Stone Garden), alloy rocks are set into a lake of raked aluminum and bronze, conveying the serenity of a Zen garden.
Hirotoshi Itoh’s iron vessels, inlaid with gold and silver, seem to have the suppleness of fine leather. For twenty years he has been using these same shapes. He creates them by “listening” to the material. Each piece seems to whisper a mystery.
Tiukimatsu-Yama, The Mountain Waiting for the Rising Moon, is a high domed vessel with cloud forms inlayed with gold. Half a brass circle is visible under the lid. A melting vessel with handles, Onzou, has inlaid silver tridents leading from the four corners of the lid. These are the places, where the fairies can enter. Onzou is a storage place. It is the whole of space. It is the Buddhist’s void. It is a repository for many good things, both the vessel and the space inside.
Keiko Kubota’s images are about the surfacing of that which is most interior. Of hammered copper and gold foil, what is inside is leaking through, or cracking the shell, or exploding from the center of being, as in her 1991 wall sculpture, Explosion. In Planet Plant, a hammered copper sphere, small plants break the crust. On the wall to the left, a smaller planet plant is mounted. In the upstairs gallery are five more small planets, children of this one.
One of a series of five, Subterranean Soul looks like a tornado supported by mesh. Words are inscribed on its upper surface. “This is the conscious mind,” Kubota explains. “The soul is like the root of the tree.” There are worlds within that are not visible on the surface. “We are all connected at the bottom of the unconscious mind. All connected to each other and to the universe. That is why we can share our feelings.”
Mitsuhiro Ishikawa’s four amazingly fluid hammered copper torsos seem to be an increasingly abstract expression of a single image. “Not a series” Ishikawa states, “each piece has its own period.” He made Standing Queen (GEN) after an exhibit with his professor where he showed Split Queen static, like the Egyptian piece, Pressed Up Queen, with a split running from collar bone to waist. He says it is the first piece that was “other, not himself.” Standing Queen (GEN) is full of power and movement, like a tall and proud African priestess. His most abstract piece in this show is Triangle. The female form becomes very tubular, very sleek. She loses the fecundity of the earlier pieces, yet she is solidly present vibrant.
Born in an area of northern Japan which is famous for its iron casting, Ken-ichi Suganuma says casting is in his blood. Untitled Work 117 is pitted and rough-edged like an old hip joint recovered from an archeological dig. Untitled Work 76 could be a potter’s whimsy after cutting the pot lids from a thick slab of clay. The surrounding space becomes form; the object, space. When asked why his pieces have no titles, Suganuma answered simply, “l wanted something I never had.”
Kazuma Oshita, born in Hiroshima after World War II, has lived in the United States since 1976. He showed the only mixed media piece, Reminiscence of Summer. A photograph, brass pear, and a brass flower rest against an acrylic painting of a mule. Stool for a Poet looks like a wooden bar stool supporting an ordinary open book. The edges of the pages, however, are on fire. The flames, the paper thin pages of the book, and the stool itself, are all made of brass.
Several years ago, Kosugi curated Cultures in Contact, a traveling exhibition of Japanese artists showing works done before and after they went abroad. Kosugi’s anthropological intrigue with the effects of different cultures on artists’ works is the basis for this show as well. Two of the artists in this exhibit, Oshita and Kubota, currently live in New York. They have expanded the methods and techniques of their Japanese training to embody the visions brought forth from their experience of this culture. Will there be an effect of this, their first trip to America and their experiences in Wal-mart on the work of Itoh, Ishikawa, and Suganuma?
The works in this exhibition are numinous and imbued with spirit. Perhaps it is as Keiko Kubota says, “we are all connected.” Through that connection, we are restored.
Linda Raiteri is a writer and critic who lives in Memphis, Tennessee
Penchant for Pendants
BonaKeane Decorative Arts Gallery
March 7 – 30, 1996
By Anne Allen
The word penchant suggests a stronger liking for the format than was represented by the works in “A Penchant for Pendants” at BonaKeane Decorative Arts Gallery.
The objective stated by BonaKeane owners Kate Bonasinga and Shannon Keane, was to invite artists whose works interested them to respond to a particular format – that of the pendant, and see what might result. Bonasinga and Keane were not interested in showcasing only regional talent (though regional artists were the majority here) nor did they, as might be expected, only focus on artists whose oeuvre is the pendant (Jan Baum and Marcia MacDonald were the ringers in that respect). Instead, their intent was to provide a framework that would generate investigation and enjoyment for both artist and audience. Some artists apparently found in the format a greater opportunity for exploration than others, and, as often in an exhibition of this kind, the show winded up offering too broad a spectrum of styles and approaches and failed to achieve an overall strength or focus.
This was the gallery’s first jewelry invitational and it featured anywhere from a single piece up to a small series of works by each of the 18 artists included: Jan Baum, Patty Chaney, Jocelyn Chateauvert, Andy Cooperman, Chris Griffin, Victoria Haven, Robin Kraft, Aaron Kramer, Susan Kunimatsu, Marcia MacDonald, Rebecca Myers, Terry Porter, Joy Raskin, Kiff Slemmons, Deb Stoner, Vernon Theiss, Kate Wagle, and Martina Windels.
A show of this kind sets up expectations of viewing not only one-of-a-kind works, but works uniquely considered in view of the assignment, that is: works that yield a different experience than what you expect to get from the jewelry counter at Nordstroms. So I was disappointed by the casual level of operation in the approach of some of the work, as if the two very different forms of the fibula and the pendill are now considered interchangeable simply for their potential to isolate an art object against the body. A number of these neckpieces approach the pendant from the more pictorial format of the brooch. Format becomes interchangeable as brooches metamorphose into pendants as the result of removable hardware and suspension. Chris Giffin’s work is one such example. Her large and captivating, yet essentially frontal pieces, would appear to be more comfortable both worn and considered as brooches.
While rethinking my understanding of the distinction between one-of-a-kind works in series and production work, I was still concerned by the anonymity of much of the work. Aaron Kramer’s well balanced pendants, often incorporating elongated drops carved from Catalin and Delrin rod, offer clean geometries, flawless craftsmanship, and a wearable scale. While playing out more intimate variations on his usual work with cast-off industrial materials, Kramer’s materials were handled in a uniform way that reduced them to the quality of any material and caused them to lose part of their potential impact. Terry Porter’s abundant pieces could have benefited from editing. Some, such as Eye Pendant were much stronger than others. And Patty Chaney’s well-crafted, high-end sea shell neckpiece seemed embarrassingly out of place, and as a necklace, it failed to meet the basic requirements of the exhibition.
Straddling the line between production and series more successfully were the light, minimal, and meticulous choker neckpieces by Martina Windels. In this context they benefited from their European influence and stood out for their delicate, machined beauty. Softly folded geometric forms in gold or patinaed sterling silver on thin sterling hoops of choker length, the pieces look as though they would rest lightly on the collarbone, settling into the hollow at the base of the throat. Windels seems to have reinvented the choker here, as these works utilize the format but not the style of that once again prevalent jewelry form of the 1970s.
The show could have benefited from a different installation, one more tailored to the unique gravity and body-responsive qualifies of the pendant. Installed in horizontal cases on the second, mezzanine-like level of the elegant gallery space, directly over the retail area, the exhibition relied primarily on a passive presentation of the works. Some were suspended on rods inside the cases, but the majority were simply displayed on fabric wrapped platforms. Allowing a greater number of the works to be viewed suspended would have formed a more distinct presence for the exhibition.
Other artists seized on the spirit of the venture and their pieces offered an evolution or adaptation of their current work. Examples included Deb Stoner’s Flower Power pendants. Carved from a state-of-the art optical plastic, these colorful, translucent, portable magnifiers share part of their aesthetic with Arline Fisch and Sara Croninger’s recent work, and they playfully extend and expand upon Stoner’s established reputation for handmade, innovative eyewear. Jocelyn Chateauvert adapted her large, delicate abaca paper lingerie necklaces and pared them down into smaller, iconic objects that have the addition of silver tablets carved with figurative ruins to weight them, while the paper flutters against the body. Robin Kraft left the nest, metaphorically and otherwise, with her miniature silver rendition of workaday In and Outboxes. Imbued with an almost doll-house feel, Weight: Presence, would be a very smart addition to the work uniform and offers the wearer a subtle incentive to get through the daily grind.
Among the most successful responses in the show were the two rose/topiary pendants by Kate Wagle and the two recently completed locket/pendants by Jan Baum. Expanding on her ongoing investigation into the image and history of the rose, Wagle’s process-intensive pendants initially conceal much of how they were accomplished. The results are at once strange and familiar. The pendants are pleasantly weighted and scaled to a cupped palm. Entitled Memento Vida, each holds a carved red rose sealed inside a lucite form, capped by a conical, stylized, foliate form in sterling silver. The lucite material and the choice of form draw from recognizable kitsch and decorative art sources, but the resulting paperweight-like objects are bewilderingly and uniquely, beautiful. Baum’s pieces further her exploration into ideas of protection and internal/external relationships and her selections and methods are informed by historical styles and themes. The artist’s use of the plumb bob form and its functional ties to the forces of gravity give her pieces a unique sense of physicality. These are masterfully constructed compositions; hinged and cage-like, the tiny dimensional vessels operate at a scale that is a good fit with the ideas presented. There is a great deal of power and excitement in these works. They, along with the works of Windels, Kraft, and Stoner, were the strength of the show.
Anne Allen is an Artist-In-Residence at the Oregon School of Arts and Crafts.
Arline Fisch Textile Techniques in Metal
May 3 – June 15, 1996
By Dorothy Joiner
Arline Fisch’s retrospective exhibition at Connell Gallery, Atlanta, definitively alters traditional notions about what jewelry should be. Drawing on historical precedents as well as on an innate penchant for exploration, Fisch has become a forerunner in the contemporary use of textile techniques used to work in metal. Having abandoned her initial union of yarn with metal after the ’60s, the artist now weaves, braids, and knits entirely with metal strips and wire. In works simultaneously varied, practical, and whimsical, Fisch takes jewelry beyond the conventional scale, relating it to the whole person. Skillfully displayed, the exhibit afforded ample space for each piece to create its own presence. Larger necklaces were shown on busts, one of Julius Caesar; another of Josephine Bonaparte, and large pieces were worn by mannequins, accenting the jewelry’s dramatic human proportions.
Fisch’s plenitude of effects derives from simple materials: silver, 14 and 18k, and copper wire coated with colored resins. Less frequently she uses anodized titanium, platinum wire, and semiprecious-never precious-gems.
Among the most fanciful of her creations, Twill Weave, 1970 is a neckband of hand-woven silver with feathers fanning down several inches over the upper chest. Offsetting the band’s density with their soft weightlessness, the feathers serve as a dun-colored foil to the luminous silver sheen. Similarly playful, the fan of Opera Fan, 1980 detaches from its silver wire necklace to be used in a warm theater. Somewhat like an elegant little whiskbroom, the fan is fashioned with alternating plaits of fine silver and 18k gold. Left unfinished, the ends of the braids lend an unbridled flourish to the geometric, curving character of the work.
Impressive, too, are the varied effects which Fisch achieves in the geometrically inspired pieces of the early ’90s. Using both zigzag and diagonal braiding techniques in several widths of gold, sterling, and oxidized silver, she fashions works which recall, because of their boldness and significant dimensions, the pectorals of the past. An asymmetrical construction, Black + White + Gold, 1992, for example, places a dramatic hollowed square over the chest and another as a counterbalance behind the neck. A second striking piece, Five-sided Plaid, 1992, joins five lengths of various braids; the tension thus engendered provides graceful curves to the work. Removing one of the detachable sections makes a very different, close-fitting necklace. Smaller but no less handsome is a pair of bracelets, Black and White Triangles, 1992, resembling truncated pyramids: one, in sterling; the other, oxidized silver. Each is accented by a diamond shape of 18k braid. These are meant to be worn together on one arm or separated with one on each arm.
Tending to blur distinctions between jewelry and garments are the machine-knitted works of copper wire coated with colored resins. A fair of burnt orange and red, Ruffled Collar, 1993 surrounds the neck with a double flourish of wide, billowing ruffles. A silver clasp anchors the exuberance, and two narrow knitted tubes dangle like ribbons. Even more audacious, Multicolor Braid with Silver Flouters, 1995 is constructed of long tubes in deep blue, purple, pink, and several shades of red. Braided to form a kind of bodice, the tubes of varying lengths in front of the garment fall freely toward the floor, each culminating in a pleated circle of silver. Silver flowers of similar construction adorn the bodice.
Influenced by recent archaeological findings in Peru, Fisch titles one of her most compelling necklaces Inspired by Heroes: The Moche of Sipán, 1995. Ample beads, three inches in diameter, made by affixing diaphanous patterns of knitted silver wire to silver rings (one lined in copper, the next in gold), alternate with smaller silver buttons to fashion a necklace worthy of Napoleon’s empress, on whose bust it is displayed.
Covering the past two and a half decades of Fisch’s work, the Connell Gallery retrospective offers not only a study of the artist’s innovative translation of fiber techniques into metal but also an insight into her venturesome extension of ornamentation beyond the neck and wrists to the whole body.
Dorothy Joiner is a professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at the State University of West Georgia in Carrollton, Georgia.
The Chain Gang
Target Gallery at the Torpedo Factory
June 14 – July 28, 1996
By Roseanne Raab
Hail, Hail The Gang’s all here…141 strong, representing the styles, skills and ideas of contemporary American metalsmiths. Gold and silver may be the materials traditionally found at a jeweler’s bench but not in “Chain Gang,” where hair, sponge, plywood, rubber, and steel mix company with the best of ideas to define art jewelry.
Curators Linda Hesh and spouse Eric Margry have interpreted art jewelry as “the piece’s design rather than the value of the materials.” Rather than debate the definition, let’s take this opportunity to examine a synergistic body of work that maintains individual characteristics. Theme shows don’t always result in a successful exhibition, but I give “Chain Gang” a nine for its originality and successful execution. How would I have felt if each piece was on its own? Perhaps less positive, because the individual links did not add up to the sum of its parts.
Technical breakthroughs are not evident. Several of the works exhibit excellence when metalsmiths use their skills to etch, patina, electroform, and weave their materials. Best of show in this group are pieces by Yuko Yagisawa, Valerie Hector, Billie Jean Theide, and Rob Peacock. Minimalism is treated with unusual sensitivity by Sue Amendolara, Julie Mihalisin, and Tom Odell. I’ll take rubber in the hands of Eric Margry and acrylic designs done by Marcia Bruno. I have difficulty when a link of bundled plastic bread ties is cited as art jewelry but I respond strongly to recycled materials creatively treated by John Grant and Harriete Estel Berman.
There is evidence of the Establishment reworking their styles. There is also a rare appearance by an established master, Harlan Butt, who put forth a splendid element with all the qualities of an artist who knows how to combine aesthetics with craftsmanship. Imagine this link enlarged to a 4 x 5′ format and wall-hung, perhaps a candidate for the Whitney Biennial.
The collection is arranged in space to encourage the audience to follow the chain around and around. Kudos to Hesh and Margry for the skillful installation.
For those unable to see this collection on its travel schedule, I recommend the purchase of the “Chain Gang” CD-ROM. I also recommend that art teachers expose their students to this exhibition. It can encourage all of us who can’t draw to find alternative ways to be an artist.
Roseanne Raab is an independent curator and collection advisor for twentieth century crafts. She lives in New York, NY.