On ViewZürcher Gallery
Kazuko Miyamoto: Works From 1966 To 2005
May 26 – July 27, 2022
Now an octogenarian, Japanese-born sculptor and multimedia artist Kazuko Miyamoto lives downtown, in the East Village. Originally from Tokyo, the artist came to New York City in 1964, studying at the Art Students League from 1964 to 1968. Lacking money, Miyamoto took on restaurant jobs and manual labor to pay for her education and living expenses. She moved to Hester Street after her period at the Art Students League. Attracted to the minimalist movement, Miyamoto met Sol LeWitt and, in a long connection, became the fabricator for his sculptors. As early as 1971, the artist herself was making remarkable minimalist sculptures belonging to a series of “constructions”: simple but striking works usually geometrical in shape, made of taut cord attached to the wall. Other works of the period include direct abstract drawings rendered with ink or gouache and pencil and, later, beginning in the 1980s and continuing for twenty years, kimonos, contemporary and antique, decorated with photo transfer images. People knew about Miyamoto in the art world, but widespread recognition evaded her—until now, with a retrospective of work at the Japan Society.
The show currently up at Zürcher Gallery, of art not seen in public before, emphasizes Miyamoto’s two-dimensional efforts, but a few sculptures are shown. The artist very well internalized the bare-bones elegance of minimalist art, a movement originating in New York City. Thus, Miyamoto, an artist of broad scope, belongs to the well-established history of foreign artists making their way to New York and picking up the style and thinking of the city’s current visual practice. In Miyamoto’s case, emphasis was inevitably directed toward minimalist form. Her cord sculptures are remarkable for their angular outline, in keeping with the art of the time. In Female I (1977), the corded sculpture, its tight lines extending from the floor to the white wall of the gallery, can be seen as a nonobjective version of a woman’s body or, just as convincingly, a form like a sail. One beautiful drawing, done with ink and pencil in the years 1975–76, shows how well Miyamoto could think sculpturally even when working on paper. The composition begins with a square base, but the lines move upward, slightly curving, to end in a single point. Although this piece is entirely a flat work, its suggestion of volume is convincing,
As the body of the show indicates, Miyamoto’s abstraction steadily practiced minimal form. Her triptych Progression of Rectangles, a 1969 acrylic-on-canvas work, consists of three paintings, gradually growing in size as they move from left to right. In each case, the background is a dark brown, filled throughout by rectangles rendered in thin, black lines, set end to end in horizontal fashion. Its simplicity is its strength: the reiterated single image provides the viewer with a sense of structure, a bit difficult to see, existing in sharp contrast to the vehemence of earlier American painting. Two untitled paper pieces from 1968, one done with oil and charcoal and the other only with charcoal, make use of the square as their basic structure. In the first, we see a square outlined in white, framed by another square, again in white. These simple shapes occur on an all-black background. The second piece also makes use of the square format; the shape, developed with a black line, sits in the middle of the paper. Within its space is a series of slightly curving white bands. Outside the outline of the square, the background is a medium gray. It is unusual to find emotional depth in so simply developed a visual construction, but that is what occurs.
Miyamoto found her voice at a time when minimalism was predominant. Usually her excellent work does not evidently tie her to her Japanese background, with the exception of the illustrated kimonos. So we see a gifted artist working within a style originated in New York City but with international implications. Her command of minimalism makes her an artist who worked with basic structure and made it compelling as art. Although minimalism is mostly a sculptural endeavor, Miyamoto was devoted to painting as well. She understood extremely well the idiom of unembellished form and took that knowledge as a support for works that are original and much more than simple. Now that both the Zürcher show and the larger exhibition at the Japan Society are open, viewers would do well to visit them both.