Robert Morris + Kishio Suga Exhibition
[Images: (Left) Robert Morris “Lead and Felt” (1969), Castelli Gallery (NY) Installation View, © 2016 Robert Morris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Kishio Suga “Parameters of Space” (1978), Gallery Saiensu Installation View, © Kishio Suga]
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Robert Morris played a pivotal role in defining Minimalist sculpture, Process Art, and Earthworks. After concentrating his attention on rigid materials and angular forms in the mid-1960s, Morris began to use soft materials, most notably felt, which he piled, stacked, and hung from the wall in an investigation of the effects of gravity and tension on ordinary materials. Morris also explored other industrial raw materials such as dirt and thread waste, yet due to their scattered placement these works often appear light despite their heavy weight. One of the artist’s principal concerns during these years was the notion of indeterminacy—for example, Scatter Piece (1969) simply consists of two hundred pieces of steel, lead, zinc, copper, aluminum, brass, and felt, which can be exhibited in any number of configurations.
Similarly, Kishio Suga gained recognition for arranging natural and manmade materials in unprecedented installations such as Parallel Strata (1969), a totemic enclosure made of paraffin wax. The notion of “release” is a defining aspect of Suga’s philosophy: in Law of Situation (1971), he placed ten flat stones in a line on a sixty-five-foot-long pane of woven glass fiber and floated it on the surface of a lake. Suga describes his approach towards materials as an ongoing investigation of “situation” and the “activation of existence,” focusing as much on the interdependency of these various elements and the surrounding space as on the materials themselves.
This exhibition presents a dialogue between two installations: Robert Morris’ Lead and Felt (1969) and Kishio Suga’s Parameters of Space (1978).
Lead and Felt was one of four works (including Scatter Piece) originally created for an exhibition held simultaneously at Castelli Gallery and Castelli Warehouse, New York, in 1969. Made of individual pieces of lead and felt that had been cut into L-shapes and laid on the ground in no specific arrangement, this installation was central to Morris’ exploration of indeterminacy. After being included in Against Order: Chance and Art at the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Philadelphia in 1970, the work was put in storage with Scatter Piece and eventually discarded. The Lead and Felt on display at Blum & Poe was remade in 2010.
Parameters of Space shares a similar history. Suga first created the work as the centerpiece of his solo exhibition at Gallery Saiensu in Morioka in 1978. Consisting of clusters of wooden boards arranged on the floor in a semi-regular pattern between five rocks, it embodies his interest in establishing so-called “boundaries,” “edges” or “parameters,” only to then deconstruct them. Like most of his early site-specific installations, Parameters of Space was discarded after the exhibition. Suga has remade his works on occasion since the mid-1980s, but while his re-creations are always based on an original core concept, they are not intended as exact replicas, and maintain a degree of flexibility in terms of scale and the number of components used each time. Parameters of Space was remade once in London in 2013, and this exhibition is the first time the work is shown in Tokyo.
This exhibition offers an opportunity to consider the correspondences and contrasts between these two artists’ explorations of material, anti-form, containment, indeterminacy, chance, intent, impermanence, and site. It also comes amid wider efforts by museums and galleries to broaden the typically Euro-American-centric narrative of Modernism through comparative surveys. Morris’ work was featured in the first major exhibition of Minimalism, Primary Structures, held at the Jewish Museum, New York, in 1966. As a rejoinder to this legacy, in 2014 the Jewish Museum held Other Primary Structures, which examined minimalist practices by non-American artists, including Suga and other Mono-ha practitioners. Suga’s work has also been featured in recent landmark surveys, such as Prima Materia, Punta della Dogana, Venice, Italy, 2013; Parallel Views: Italian and Japanese Art from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, The Warehouse, Dallas, Texas, 2013; and Tokyo 1955–1970: A New Avant-Garde, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2012.