mono-ha reconsidered


The first exhibit that J. and I saw at the Osaka National Museum of Art was the Reconsidering Mono-ha exhibit. Here’s a bit about Mono-ha from the Osaka National Museum of Art website:

Mono-ha was an important trend that should be viewed as a benchmark in Japanese postwar art history, and a movement that continues to raise a variety of questions. “Mono-ha” was not a group assembled on the basis of a single doctrine or framework. Between 1968 and the early 1970s, the collection of artists who used “mono”(things), such as stone and wood, paper and cotton, and steel sheets and paraffin in their natural form, as either single substances or in combination with each other, came to be known as “Mono-ha.” By presenting ordinary “things” just as they were in extraordinary circumstances, the artists were able to strip away preexisting concepts related to their materials and access a new world within them.

The huge conceptual shift that led to the emergence of this type of art is often traced to the 1st Exhibition of Contemporary Japanese Sculpture held at Kobe Suma Rikyu Park in October 1968, and the crucial role played by Sekine Nobuo’s “Phase-Mother Earth,” a work that contrasted a deep cylindrical hole in the earth with a cylindrical pile of dirt. Lee U fan, who had studied philosophy in Japan, suggested that “Phase-Mother Earth” contained a universal aspect which made an “encounter” with a “new world” possible, and thus provided a theoretical foundation for Mono-ha.

Walking through the Mono-ha exhibit was a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, I really did experience a “sense of encounter” with many of the works on display — especially works by Lee U Fan, Sekine Nobuo (関根伸夫), and Takamatsu Jiro. Nobuo’s series of enormous and roughly worked raw clay lumps created a kind of strange organic-intelligent landscape, and Lee U Fan’s investigations of the marks of everyday materials were really beautiful. I also liked a series of Jiro’s works titled “Oneness of Marble,” “Oneness of wood,” and one other “Oneness” that I can’t completely remember right now. On the other hand, there was a bit of the sense of work that has gone dead in the museum setting — a sense of artifact rather than art. I had this same feeling when I saw the Fluxus exhibit at the Whitney, years ago. Fluxus works, which were intended to be handled, worked with, experimented with, were locked behind glass. Interesting for the expert, but definitely outside of any sort of original spirit of the work. However, many of the Mono-ha pieces still retain their sense of otherworldly encounter and all in all I would recommend it to anyone in the Osaka area. The Mono-ha show runs until December 18.

Sekine Nobuo’s “Phase-Mother Earth.” This is probably the most famous Mono-ha work — a cylinder of earth painstaking lifted from the ground as part of the 1st Exhibition of Contemporary Japanese Sculpture held in Kobe in 1968. This work was not reproduced for the exhibition. (Original photo taken from the Osaka National Museum of Art website, copyright by Murai Osamu.)
This is Koshimizu Susumu’s 1969 work, “Paper 2.” What’s difficult to see in this image are the two enormous blocks of rough-cut granite (or marble?) inside the paper envelope. This work was reproduced for the Reconsidering Mono-ha exhibit and it’s still a very effective work. The delicacy of the paper envelope, and the fact that you have to kneel to the floor to see the secret concealed inside, contrasts with the startling weight and solidity of the massive stone blocks. (Original image from the Osaka National Museum of Art website.)
This is Nomura Hitoshi’s “Tradiology,” a 1968-69 monument in cardboard. It was reproduced for the Reconsidering Mono-ha exhibit, but it doesn’t retain the force of the original in the interior context of the museum setting. (Original image taken from the Osaka National Museum website.)

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