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Hirotake Kurokawa at Gallery Gan

by Monty DiPietro

At first glance they can look vulnerable – like flowers or bits of scrunched-up gold foil. Some are very small, the tallest maybe knee-high. Nine of them sit on the floor, spaced a meter or so away from one another, and they glitter slightly under the combination of halogen and tungsten light. But these works are meant to be much more than decorative, although the question of what exactly they are is a difficult one. When the man who created the sculptures, Hirotake Kurokawa, attempts to elucidate, it helps, but it helps very little.

"The theme of these works is derived from a story taken from Greek Mythology about a race of warriors which slays a dragon in a lake," explains the artist, "and about the woman, Harmonia, who is born from the egg the dead dragon leaves behind."

Personally, I think Cadmus comes into the story somewhere, but I’m not at all sure. Anyway, if you are as confused as I was, than perhaps the best thing would be to have a look for yourself. Kurokawa’s latest abstract works, taken from his ongoing series "Spartoi," are now showing at Gallery Gan on Tokyo’s Ginza art strip.

The pieces are cast bronze, a material which Kurokawa, 47, has been working with since 1982. Areas where the metal was air-cooled are, as is usual, black, while those places where the artist used a circular grinder to remove the surface are shiny and, well, bronze. Hard angles describe the surfaces of the pieces, lending a certain urgency to the sculptures when they are examined closely. Although all nine pieces in the show are abstract, one does look a little like a relief map of England, thanks perhaps to the bunny-rabbit-in-the-clouds effect: Stare long enough and your mind will order almost anything into something familiar. And stare you might – the pieces are quite engaging, due in part to the presence afforded them by their mass, which can be sensed somehow when they are viewed up close. (Some of the sculptures weigh in at 60 kilograms.) It is good that Kurokawa has put the pieces on the floor rather than mounting them on plinths. In bringing the viewer to a crouch, the sculptures further assert themselves. Kurokawa is showing the latest (numbers 47 – 55) from the Spartoi series in this show.

The gallery itself is a delight. A storefront on a not-so-busy street in Ginza 7-chome, the Gan opened some four years ago as one of the area’s largest commercial art spaces, with bright and clean exhibition area of over 70 square meters and high ceilings to boot. While the slow art market of late has seen several other area galleries relocate or close down altogether, the Gan believes it is here to stay. Tokihiro Sato, whose Photo-Respiration series of black and white long-exposure light spot photographs is possibly the internationally best-known artist the gallery handles. Gan also publishes modest but very nice bilingual catalogues for many of its shows.

Possibly because Kurokawa was the first-ever artist to show at Gan, the friendly opening party has a sort of homecoming feel to it. As the soft-spoken artist schmoozes with the gathering of art people, collectors, and friends, a few among the upscale crowd are bending and stooping and craning their necks like me.

But try as I might, nowhere do I see a dragon, or an egg, or Harmonia. And then it occurs to me: Maybe these sculptures simply are.

Notes: At Gallery Gan (3573-6555) until Feb 12. The photo is of a Kurokawa work from the artist’s "Spartoi" series.
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