Art Review: Huge impact, tiny exquisite art

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Art Review by Steven Litt

Cleveland’s admirable Sculpture Center, which champions local and regional artists, has also expanded its artistic reach beyond Northeast Ohio in recent years.

This fall, the center has trained a discerning eye on Japanese fiber art in a fascinating and visually powerful exhibition.

The fiber show follows an exhibition on Japanese modern art held earlier this year at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

-8b63537dfc0ada48Paradoxically, the show at the Sculpture Center derives much of its intensity from the reality that all 50 pieces on view – one by each of the 50 participating artists — are roughly the same size, about one-half to two-thirds the volume of a basketball.

Though not as small as the typical Faberge jeweled item, the effect of the Japanese fiber pieces is that of a group of miniatures. It’s an assembly of small, exquisitely crafted objects, each of which focuses sharply on a specific aesthetic concept or image.

The show’s impact derives from seeing how each work achieves its own unique, distinct and highly articulated statement within the limitation of a small spatial envelope.

Curator Hiroko Watanabe, a teacher at Tama Art University in Japan, and chair of the N.P.O. International Textiles Network Japan and the Textile Design Association of Japan, chose works for the exhibition that explore an amazingly wide range of sensibilities and techniques.

The imagery in the exhibition ranges from biomorphic to geological, geometric, architectural, floral and industrial. To mix cultural metaphors, the effect is that of a tapas bar for the eyes.

Yukako Sorai’s “Maieutica,” a piece in layered and cut felt, resembles an intensely colorful geode with deep canyons exposing interior strata excavated by the artist.

Yasuko Okamoto’s “Spine,” an example of needlework made in rayon thread, resembles a spiny creature one could imagine living in a desert.

Keiko Mizutani’s “Flower/One Cloth,” woven in blue cotton and nylon, is a miniature skyscraper with a folded structure resembling a honeycomb.

-65b0cdbfe8fcb7e1While the three aforementioned pieces use traditional materials associated with fiber art, Kyoko Kumai’s “Birth” exploits stainless steel wire to create an object that evokes a shiny, high-tech, germinating seed.

If there’s one word that best summarizes these and other pieces on view, it is structure.

Japanese fiber artists use yarn, macramé, chemical pulp, felt, silk and a wide range of other materials to create objects that more often than not can be read as powerful three-dimensional objects.

In other words, the exhibition makes it very clear that in the Japanese case, fiber art can certainly be construed as sculpture.

Japan has been a font of exquisite expression in all the visual arts, from ceramics and architecture to painting, printmaking and fashion. This makes it no surprise to find that fiber art is another huge area of strength.

From a local perspective, it is highly gratifying to find a comprehensive overview of an important slice of global culture served up so accessibly at the Sculpture Center.

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