Operates 1966-2005 – The Brooklyn Rail
Kazuko Miyamoto: Works from 1966 to 2005
May 26 – July 27, 2022
Now in his 80s, a Japanese-born sculptor and multimedia artist, Kazuko Miyamoto lives downtown, in the East Village. Originally from Tokyo, the artist came to New York in 1964, studying at the Art Students League from 1964 to 1968. Lacking money, Miyamoto took jobs in catering and manual labor to pay for his studies and his living expenses. She moved to Hester Street after her period at the Art Students League. Attracted by the minimalist movement, Miyamoto met Sol LeWitt and, in a long relationship, became the shaper of his sculptors. As early as 1971, the artist herself produced remarkable minimalist sculptures belonging to a series of “constructions”: simple but striking works, generally geometric in shape, made up of stretched cords fixed to the wall. Other works from the period include direct abstract drawings rendered in ink or gouache and pencil and, later, beginning in the 1980s and continuing for twenty years, kimonos, both contemporary and antique, decorated with transfer images from photos. People knew Miyamoto in the art world, but widespread recognition eluded him – until now, with a retrospective of the work at the Japan Society.
The exhibition currently on display at the Zürcher Gallery, of art never before seen in public, emphasizes Miyamoto’s two-dimensional efforts, but a few sculptures are on display. The artist has very well internalized the stripped elegance of minimalist art, a movement originating in New York. Thus, Miyamoto, a major artist, belongs to the well-established history of foreign artists who come to New York and take up the style and thought of the city’s current visual practice. In Miyamoto’s case, the emphasis was inevitably on minimalist form. His cord sculptures are remarkable for their angular silhouette, consistent with the art of the time. In woman i (1977), the roped sculpture, its taut lines stretching from the floor to the white wall of the gallery, can be seen as a non-objective version of a woman’s body or, just as convincingly, as a sail-like form. A beautiful drawing, made in ink and pencil in the years 1975-1976, shows how sculpturally Miyamoto could think even when working on paper. The composition begins with a square base, but the lines move upward, gently curving, to end in a single point. Although this piece is entirely a flat work, its suggestion of volume is compelling,
As the body of the show indicates, Miyamoto’s abstraction consistently practiced minimal form. His triptych Progression of rectangles, an acrylic-on-canvas work from 1969, consists of three paintings, gradually increasing in size as they move from left to right. In each case, the background is dark brown, filled entirely with rectangles rendered by thin black lines, placed end to end in a horizontal fashion. Its simplicity is its strength: the repeated single image offers the viewer a sense of structure, somewhat difficult to see, which contrasts sharply with the vehemence of earlier American painting. Two untitled pieces of paper from 1968, one done in oil and charcoal and the other only in charcoal, use the square as a basic structure. In the first, we see a square outlined in white, framed by another square, also in white. These simple shapes occur on an all-black background. The second piece also uses the square format; the shape, developed with a black line, is in the middle of the paper. Within its space is a series of slightly curved white bands. Outside the outline of the square, the background is medium gray. It’s unusual to find emotional depth in such a simply developed visual construct, but it does.
Miyamoto found his voice at a time when minimalism was prevalent. Usually, her excellent work obviously does not link her to her Japanese origin, except for the illustrated kimonos. So we see a gifted artist working in a style originating in New York but with international implications. Her mastery of minimalism made her an artist who worked with basic structure and made it compelling as art. Although minimalism was primarily a sculptural endeavor, Miyamoto also devoted himself to painting. She understood the idiom of no-frills form extremely well and took this knowledge as a medium for original and more than simple works. Now that Zürcher’s show and Japan Society’s largest exhibit are open, onlookers would do well to visit both.