A Study of Modern Japanese Sculpture

mjs5_0This small collection, currently housed in a single exhibition room at the Henry Moore, poses several questions about the nature of sculpture. What is the difference, these works ask,  between a sculpture made to be looked at and an object made for touching? What relationship is there between the material used and the material depicted – wooden stone, bronze skin?

These quandaries are best articulated by Heihachi Hashimoto’s 1928 work ‘About the Stone’. Like all of the pieces in this exhibition, ‘About the Stone’ sits in a glass case  suspended above a mirror, so that we can see the detailed underside of the shape. As the title suggests, this is a sculpture of a stone. But it is a stone made out of wood – a lump of wood used to depict a lump of rock. Although presumably translated out of the Japanese, the English form of the sculpture’s title gives us two ways in which the sculpture might be understood: as a story in sculpture on the subject of a stone, and – being seen from all angles – as a meditation on everything surrounding the stone. That is, the entire universe.

mjs4_0The Henry Moore’s commentary on the exhibition tells us that this three-hundred-and-sixty degree view of the pieces meant that they “read as ‘objects’ rather than as ‘sculptures”, asking to be handled and turned to be fully appreciated.” The concept brings to mind the ‘netsuke’ – much smaller Japanese sculptures made of wood or ivory explicitly intended to be held and touched. With this exhibition there is certainly an eerie frustration in not being able to stroke the smooth contours of a hibernating toad, or place your own palm against that of Kotaro Takamura’s oversized bronze ‘Hand’.

For all it’s modesty, this small interlude in the Henry Moore’s winter/spring season offers something which, though deceptively straightforward, reveals more and more depth the longer it is appreciated.

Rachel Groocock

Images: Henry Moore Institute

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