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Yutaka Sone

by Ilka Scobie
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"Is this the same color?” Yutaka Sone asked, as he climbed up a ladder to deepen an aquamarine loop of a letter on the wall. "I am so happy to be painting,” he proclaimed, using his fingers to complete the calligraphy. Instead of leading me on a walk-through of his new exhibition at David Zwirner Gallery, Sone was atop a step ladder embellishing a white wall with the moniker “Island,” the title of the artist’s fifth solo show with the gallery.

“Yutaka is shy,” David Zwirner explained, as the sneaker-clad artist disappeared. “He‘s going to change clothes.”

“Island” consists of six marble sculptures, meticulously carved and blindingly white, which share the space with seven green tropical plants, expertly fashioned from rattan. The show’s remarkable centerpiece, Little Manhattan, is a 5,000-pound scale model of New York City, measuring just over 33 inches tall and stretching over eight feet long. To make his model, the artist took helicopter rides, photographed and referred to Google Earth. He mapped out the city first via a plaster maquette.

From skyscrapers to Central Park paths, the dense and everchanging skyline is heroically depicted. Along with the other marble pieces, Little Manhattan was created in Chongwu, an ancient walled Southwestern Chinese village renowned for its stonemasons. For a dozen years, Sone has kept a studio there, along with one in Guadalajara, Mexico, and another in Los Angeles, where he lives.

Sone is a sculptor who also paints, performs, photographs, draws, makes films and works collaboratively. The purpose of his art, he said, is to reveal “beautiful scenery that one never saw before.” His topographical city, whose sides sweep down like marble drapery, captures the urban density in a miniaturized majesty. The artist has also created sculptures of Hong Kong and the Los Angeles freeway system.

Three other marble works from 2010 share the same title, Light in between Trees. Epitomizing his exploration of the threshold between the organic and the manmade, Sone uses off kilter rectangular parallelepipeds to depict rays of sunlight filtering through tree branches. For Light in between Trees #2 , an elongated starburst shape emerges from between a pair of mighty redwoods, while in #3 geometric shafts bisect a sawn-off tree trunk.

Sone's interest in the collision between the natural and manmade worlds is represented by Six Floor Jungle (2008), a kind of skyscraper of six open floors, each filled with an expanse of deep forest -- all made from white marble, and stretching nearly five feet tall.

Sheltering the smaller marble sculptures is "Tropical Composition," a grouping of seven woven plants, six banana trees and one palm, made of painted rattan on steel armatures. In Mexico, the artist worked with local craftspeople to make his jungle. Painting the sculptures in vivid acrylics, Sone captured the natural sun-burnt leaf decay. Travelers Palm, the largest of the group, dominates the room like a verdant mandala.

A final marble sculpture also takes up the tropical theme. Rafflesia Flower (2010), with its five large and cerebral petals, has no stem or roots. A rare Indonesian bloom, its pervasive perfume has earned it the name of "corpse flower." Classical yet expressionist -- and not without a touch of suspense -- Sone's work proves to be a winning evocation of eternity and ephemerality.

ILKA SCOBIE is a New York poet.