Nobuhito Nishigawara’s exhibition Persona will run from September 5 to November 11, 2012, at Tally Beck Contemporary, 42 Rivington Street, New York, NY 10002. An opening reception will take place at the gallery on Wednesday, September 5, 2012, from 6 to 9 p.m. Tally Beck Contemporary thanks Tiger Beer for its sponsorship of the opening reception.
The crisp austerity of the works in Persona belies the complex narratives behind their creation. Nishigawara is careful to stage his artworks to emphasize their preciousness, but the combination of metal and terracotta employed in production suggest a basic, earthy simplicity. The artist connects these two disparate elements by his overt references to art history and archeology. We are led to accord importance and significance to the pieces not as objets d’art but as artifacts laden with cultural revelation.
The subject matter is consistently zoomorphic, but Nishigawara calls upon two distinct classes of ancient artifact in conceiving his sculptural forms: Ancient Japanese haniwa and Mesopotamian animal vessels. While separated by considerable time and distance, the two genres of earthenware share a charming simplicity along with a contemporary importance placed on their humble shoulders to function as time portals to mysterious ancient worlds.
Haniwa are the most notable discoveries from Ancient Japan’s Kofun Period (third to sixth centuries CE). This period is characterized by (and named for) the proliferation of tumuli, or burial mounds, that were used to bury people of high rank. Typically, a tumulus would feature a corpse buried in the center mound, and the periphery was enclosed by a series of posts creating a fence-like structure. At various points, haniwa capped taller posts.
Depending on the era, the subject matter of haniwa varied widely. The terracotta sculptures depicted animals, spirits, tools and different classes and occupations of people. The charming details in the representations of humans have provided the most significant window into the daily life of the ancient society. As China’s terracotta warriors revealed copious details about military practice and courtly life, the haniwa present us with a catalog of Kofun society and provide us with details about clothing, status and technology.
The legacy of artifacts from Mesopotamian cultures is more exhaustive and varied. The cultures that flourished there around 1200 CE produced objects in many different media and documented their military victories and rituals in elaborate pictorial styles. One genre of objects was simple terracotta vessels in the shapes of various animals. The exact purpose of these vessels is uncertain. They could have been ritual items holding libations, or they simply may have been household items.
Nishigawara is fascinated by the effect of taking these objects out of their contexts and placing them in museums.