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Reading a Wave

Masaomi Yasunaga
Intersection of Dreams

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Reading a Wave

Yuji Agematsu, Irma Blank, Andrea Büttner, Michael Dean, Jimmie Durham, Peter Fischli & David Weiss, Luigi Ghirri, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Peter Hujar, Ellsworth Kelly, Luisa Lambri, Liz Larner, Tony Lewis, Fausto Melotti, Ron Nagle, Rivane Neuenschwander & Cao Guimarães, Silke Otto-Knapp, Lisa Ponti, Charles Ray, Paul Thek, Luc Tuymans, David Weiss

In his story “Reading a Wave,” Italo Calvino’s protagonist Mr. Palomar is confronted with a dilemma. As he stands on the beach and tries to follow the progress of a single wave as it moves toward the shore, he is frustrated time and time again by the inherent dynamism of its form as it appears, its energy wanes, and then it disappears and dissolves into the following swell. Try as he might, Mr. Palomar (whose name cleverly evokes that of the famous astronomical observatory) cannot seem to grasp or appreciate the poetic potential of things that are transitory, transient, fleeting, passing, short-lived, momentary, temporary, impermanent, evanescent, or fugitive. In other words, Mr. Palomar isn’t able to embrace the value of what we might term “the ephemeral.”

Each of the twenty-two artists on view in Palomar’s inaugural exhibition Reading a Wave in their own way provides a meditation on the poetic power of the ephemeral, the surprising gravity of the transitory, or what Calvino once called a spirit of “lightness.” As Calvino suggested, “It might be said that two opposing literary tendencies have competed over the centuries: one that seeks to make language a weightless element that hovers over things like a cloud, or, better, a fine dust, or, better still, a magnetic field; another that seeks to imbue language with the weight and thickness and concreteness of objects and bodies and sensations.”

Working across a wide range of media including sculpture, painting, photography, drawing, and film, these artists operate within Calvino’s weightless magnetic field of lightness by championing the minor over the monolithic and spaces of transition over any kind of established boundaries. Reading a Wave looks at the ways each of these artists uses everyday gestures, whispers, glances, and a network of correspondences to create constellations of cosmic moments that overlap and resonate with one another, the world, and the viewer.

Masaomi Yasunaga
Intersection of Dreams

What is it that we see when we look at the uncanny sculptural objects of Masaomi Yasunaga? Arranged in a deliberate fashion on geometric piles of gravel reminiscent of ancient burial mounds, Yasunaga’s sculptures generate a field of references that evoke a landscape of dreams. With their stone-, glass-, sand-, and glaze-encrusted surfaces, these nonfunctional vessels take on the quality of recently unearthed archaeological artifacts from some long-forgotten civilization or a yet-to-be-imagined future.

Born in Osaka Prefecture in Japan in 1982, Yasunaga earned an MA in environmental design while also studying ceramics in the laboratory of Saturo Hoshino, a second-generation proponent of the postwar avant-garde ceramic movement Sōdeisha, which in kanji (走泥社) literally means “crawling through the mud society.” Rebelling against centuries-old Japanese ceramic traditions, the artists of Sōdeisha questioned the necessity of making useful objects — plates, cups, serving vessels — and instead advocated a new sculptural freedom for the medium. Yasunaga has taken this mandate to heart and spent the past ten years developing a body of work that has even removed a clay body from the equation altogether.

The highly innovative gesture that makes Yasunaga’s objects so technically and aesthetically provocative has been his decision to displace clay as the primary structural element. His radical technique involves creating vessel-like sculptural forms out of glaze, a material that in ceramics has been traditionally used as a decorative device to provide color, luster, and finish on the surfaces of clay-built objects. In Yasunaga’s hands, liquid glaze becomes a mercurial building material that solidifies into three-dimensional form when fired in the kiln. His unique process for getting this material to hold its shape involves burying his glaze objects in trays of sand, soil, or rocks. As it melts under the intense heat of a wood-fired kiln, the molten glaze acts as a binding agent that adheres to the surrounding earthen forms. Once taken from the kiln and cooled, the resulting works are carefully “unearthed” in a studio process that takes on the character of an archaeological dig. Following the painstaking removal of the excess sand and rocks from their surfaces with a variety of tools, his sculptures emerge from their cocoons with textures along a spectrum from smooth to heavily encrusted.

With titles evocative of both Yasunaga’s technical process and the almost mythological imaginary that they conjure — Empty Creature, Skeleton of a Vessel, Melting Vessel, Crumbling, Vessel Fused with Stone, or Regenerating Vessel — the artist’s menagerie of frozen forms has transformed the grotto-like space of Palomar’s Ca’ Benefizi into an existential territory where dreams emerge, intersect, and slowly find their way into the realm of our waking lives.

All works by Masaomi Yasunaga are courtesy the artist and Nonaka-Hill, Los Angeles.