Blum & Poe is pleased to present an exhibition of Kishio Suga’s work on paper. His fifth solo presentation with the gallery, this show is the first comprehensive survey of his work in this medium, which has rarely been exhibited outside Japan. Suga’s investigation of paper has been an integral part of his practice since the beginning of his artistic career, occurring in parallel with the large-scale installations and wall-mounted assemblages for which he is best known.
The earliest work in this exhibition, Untitled (1968), was made shortly after Suga graduated from Tama Art University, when he worked for one year as a part-time studio assistant to Sam Francis in Tokyo. Watching Francis create his Edge paintings by moving around large canvases laid on the floor, Suga was inspired to think about the relationship of center and periphery in his own emerging practice. Painted with bright acrylics sourced from Francis’ studio, Untitled (1968) consists of rectangular fields of vivid red and blue, permeated with English words in various states of obfuscation and erasure. These colliding fields of color and fragments of negated language reflect Suga’s incipient interest in the discrepancies between words and meaning, and the need to allow material to speak for itself. Only months after creating Untitled (1968), Suga turned away from painting and toward making site-specific installations out of natural and industrial materials such as paraffin, concrete, wood, branches, metal, rope, and wire. He and a small number of other artists who worked in similarly ephemeral modes became known as Mono-ha (“School of Things”). Deeply immersed in the theoretical writings of Jean Baudrillard, Gilles Deleuze, Kitarō Nishida, Keiji Nishitani, and Mahāyāna Buddhism since his university years, Suga developed his own idiosyncratic philosophy of matter and space, which he articulates in terms of a holistic “interdependence” (izon) of all “things” (mono) “being left” (hōchi) in the “situations” (jōkyō) that unite them.
As with Suga’s installations and assemblages, his works on paper show the evolution of the artist’s thought over the last five decades. During the 1970s, Suga experimented with various forms of mark-making and manipulation on different types of paper. In Situation of Boundary (1971) Suga applied diagonal strokes of white chalk to conjoined sheets of black sandpaper, emphasizing a unifying field that traverses the borders of multiple units within a greater whole. Suga also created geometric compositions out of tape, marker, ink, and torn edges, such as Lateral Realm—174 (1974) and Corner at Phases (1975). By contrast, in Quantity of Territory in Position (1976) he employed frenzied, diagonal ballpoint pen strokes to counter the gridded order of graph paper.
The early 1980s saw Suga continue to explore minimal interventions such as scoring corrugated cardboard in Towards Order (1981) and folding white paper to demarcate zones of space that he filled with gestural waves of pencil marks, as in Traversing Things—11 (1982). Later in the decade, he resumed the use of brilliant fields of paint interspersed with pencil lines as a means of deconstructing the white expanse of the paper support, such as Few Variations, Many Transitions (1985).
Suga further expanded his repertoire of painted interventions and types of support during the 1990s, creating more sprawling configurations of acrylic and mixed media on used envelopes and densely patterned wrapping papers. Since the 2000s, Suga has highlighted the duality of presence and absence by leaving geometric voids of unpainted space amid finely streaked grids of paint, such as in Things that Go Against the Flow (2007). Similarly, in Oscillating Scenery (2011), Suga dragged a ball of crumpled paper saturated with dark blue ink over a sheet of paper’s white expanse and affixed the ball to the end of the meandering line that it had traced. The work presents three-dimensional evidence of movement across a two-dimensional field—an almost calligraphic revelation of the fusion of material, line, gesture, and space.
This presentation at Blum & Poe in Los Angeles coincides with a major solo museum exhibition in Japan and the release of an anthology of Suga’s essays translated into English. The Iwate Museum of Art is celebrating its 20th anniversary with Kishio Suga: The Existence of “Things” and the Eternity of “Site,” a survey focusing on the artist’s relationship with his home region of Iwate Prefecture. Meanwhile, Skira Editore, Blum & Poe, and Mendes Wood DM have published Kishio Suga: Writings, vol. 1, 1969–1979. Edited by Andrew Maerkle, Ashley Rawlings, and Sen Uesaki, this is the first of an ambitious three-volume anthology that makes Suga’s thinking accessible to English readers as a comprehensive body of work for the first time. In spring 2023, Suga’s work will be included in Sam Francis and Japan: Emptiness Overflowing at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the first exhibition to explore Francis’ work in relation to ma and other aspects of Japanese aesthetics.
Kishio Suga was born in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, in 1944 and lives and works in Ito, Shizuoka Prefecture. In recent years, he has had major retrospectives at Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan, Italy (2016); Dia: Chelsea, New York, NY (2016); and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan (2015). Suga is frequently included in global survey exhibitions. Most recently, a re-creation of his groundbreaking outdoor installation Law of Situation (1971) was displayed in the Gaggiandre shipyard at the 57th Venice Biennale (2017). His work is featured in many institutional collections, including the Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX; Glenstone Foundation, Potomac, MD; Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi, UAE; Long Museum, Shanghai, China; M+, Hong Kong, China; Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; National Museum of Art, Osaka, Japan; National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, Japan; Pinault Collection, Venice, Italy; Rachofsky Collection, Dallas, TX; Tate Modern, London, UK; Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan; and the Yokohama Museum of Art, Yokohama, Japan.
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Kishio Suga: Writings, vol. 1, 1969–1979