7.17.17 — Minimalism as Lightweight

As Minimalism goes, Kishio Suga is a lightweight. Not that his largest and latest work at Dia:Chelsea, through July 29, lacks heft. Its cracked timbers rise nearly to human height, with a thickness that would embarrass a human waistline. Slim metal beams lie across them as well. Together, they construct a monumental architecture, with the plinths as ancient columns and the metal a modern steel frame. If they lack for walls, unlike Richard Serra, so does the Parthenon.

Like architecture, too, or for that matter like Serra, they are both welcoming and confining. Feel free to explore, but on their terms. In the course of exploration, you may see them at any given moment as a game, a comfort, or a threat. You may wish to be careful so as not to knock them down, lest you injure a work of art, another human being, or yourself. Serra’s rusted steel can seem precarious, too, even at its weightiest. Still, for all his ambition, Suga’s obstacle course is far lighter, more open, and deliciously random.

Suga is like that, and so is Mono-ha, the Japanese counterpart to Minimalism. Where Minimalism works between sculpture and industry, the Japanese movement works between architecture and landscape. It often rises vertically, where an American like Carl Andre would hesitate to defy gravity, but with open sight lines. It also both accepts accident and human intervention. Additional steel plates stack between many of Suga’s beams, to level them. The weathered materials seem more natural than impersonal.

Like a Japanese garden, they also come with spiritual pretensions that an American would shun. Suga calls them Law of Halted Space, while other titles speak of phases and transformation. Together, the six works amount to a modest retrospective, from 1968 to the present. A stone looks left over from the building’s infrastructure, perhaps as a door, with the artist’s doodlings in vinyl. Others stick to wood, metal, paint, stone, and earth. More than Lee Ufan, Suga has to get back to the garden.

More than others, too, he is not above muss and fuss. It weakens the smaller works while heightening the larger ones. The second largest connects its stones by wrapping them in thick wire. Another depends on Suga to hold it up. Where John McCracken would simply lean a plank against the wall, he leans two against each other—and even that does not promise a firm balance. He has to place stones at the feet of each one.

The fuss can get in the way of what Minimalism and Mono-ha share most. At their best, both oblige one to focus not just on objects, but also on oneself and one’s environment. When human perception does play a role, it does not always play to the work’s benefit either. Friends swore that the wood smelled like puke. (Maybe they should have reflected on what that says about the normal treatment of materials or about themselves.) As a sculpture garden, the installation may appear at its most enticing as one looks from one work to another.

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