Frank Fuhrmann and Takashi Suzuki at the Sagacho Exhibit Space

by Monty DiPietro

Most people think of steel, that toe-capping material of hammers and ship hulls, as pretty darn strong stuff. Venezuelan-born artist Frank Fuhrmann, who knows a thing or two about the iron-carbon alloy, would like us to think twice before making this kind of assumption. Seven steel sculptures by Fuhrmann, 43, join a dozen pieces in wrought iron by Takashi Suzuki in "Kommunikation," a show of new work by the two artists now on at the Sagacho Exhibit Space in Tokyoís Koto Ward.

"People think, well, steel Ė itís heavy, itís secure, says Fuhrmann, "they donít think about the fragility."

The first thing visitors to the Sagacho will notice is probably Fuhrmannís "Tomodachi" (1998), a pair of two-meter-diameter steel rings installed just to the left of the galleryís entrance. Standing side by side, the rings are perched on tiny strips of tire-rubber. They touch just enough as to maintain their balance against one another.

"There are two circles, two points of view coming together," says Fuhrmann. "Sometimes, as tomodachi, or friends, come together, they donít hit, they just sort of lean on each other." Because there are no welds or bolts securing the two rings of steel, there is a sign posted at the galleryís entrance. The text reads: "ATTENTION! These works are placed on very delicate balance. Please donít touch the work for the heavy iron may cause danger."

Yes, it may. A slight nudge would send the two 150kg "Tomodachi" rings rolling off their rubber perches. And that would be very dangerous indeed.

What Fuhrmann seems to be suggesting is that there is a good deal of balance to be found in both the material and metaphysical worlds. While we may be surprised to discover that this balance is sometimes more fragile than we think, the artistís work suggests that there is no need to react to this realization with fear. Rather, find a balance.

"Actually, that warning sign is just for insurance purposes, because if everyone were to touch the works, eventually somebody would press too heavily and something could happen," explains Fuhrmann, who grasps one of the three steel dowels supporting his piece "Rotation" (1998), and begins to turn it. "See," he says, as the rods and a rusted steel ring begin to lumber round on the galleryís waxed-concrete floor, "thatís why this piece is called ĎRotationí."

If Fuhrmannís sculptures bring us into an appreciation of the bonds existing between components of a single system, Suzukiís works do the opposite, mapping out the relationship between his objet and space.

Suzuki, two years Fuhrmannís junior, uses Donald Judd-like repetition of minimal forms. His "Miraculous" (1998), consists of eight small cylinders climbing the east wall, while "Memory of Detour" (1998) finds eight L-shaped wrought iron objet arranged in a line along the floor. Suzukiís pieces are flung out such that one divides oneís time between standing before Fuhrmannís work and walking through Suzukiís.

If this seems ambitious, then the amply-sized Sagacho is up to the task. "Kommunikation" is the second installment in the galleryís "Series Duo," of shows that present the work of two artists simultaneously. Regular Sagacho visitors will be surprised to find 10 windows on the spaceís north wall. Covered by dry wall since the art space opened in 1983, the large iron-framed windows are streaming light into the Sagacho for the first time. Looking out the windows, it becomes apparent that the gallery built the wall because the view, one of pre-fab warehouses and low-rise office buildings, is so dreary. The walls were removed for this show at the artistsí request, so that natural light would play on the pieces Ė steel can look rather hard under artificial light. The natural light nicely softens the works in "Kommunikation."

I ask the long-time German-based Fuhrmann, who has spent the last two years living in Shirogane, about the exhibition title. This is the information age, I say, pulling out my mobile phone. We have the world wide web, isnít communication easier now than it has ever been?

"Thatís not real communication," he smiles, "I think itís too fast, there is no time for the heart or feelings. People come here and they take the time to pick up the atmosphere Ė maybe let the works tell them some stories."

Once again, the Sagacho has hit the mark Ė this is a show that explores the intrinsic communication between weight and balance, found both in the relationship of the works with the space, and in the relationship of two very different artists working with very similar materials.

notes: Until Sep 27, 1998 (03-3630-3396).

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