The Renaissance discerned two kinds of
sculptural modes: freestanding, three-dimensional sculpture,
and more two-dimensional low-relief sculpture, like
wall panels. Leonardo da Vinci weighed in on the second
kind, acknowledging his essential concern: "the
sculptor may claim that low relief is a kind of painting."
Separating the values of sculpture from those of painting
came to seem paramount, distinguishing the sculptural
artwork as a physical object and not as a visual image.
Modern conceptions have often asserted the autonomy
of sculpture operating in the real space of the world
shared with the viewer, rather than the fictive 2-D
space of painting. Nobuaki Onishi's (b. 1972) recent
work is located in these general issues, and through
a further contemporary installation arrangement in "Desktop,
Dress, Gray" he draws on connections to Pop Art
and Marcel Duchamp's "readymades."
In the earlier works from around 2004 in his "Infinity
Gray" series, Onishi cast ordinary everyday items
and painted them up with virtuosic flare to seemingly
fool the eye into thinking that they really were those
things. Goods were chosen from the lower ends of mass
consumption, an example being "Suzuri (Ink Stone)"
(2004), which is usually a highly expensive item in
the repertory of artistic accouterments, and traditionally
one of the "four treasures of the study."
Onishi's mold, however, is taken from the meanest store-bought
variety. The items in this series are smallish objects
that can be grasped or casually shifted around, and
their touchability is an essential part of their identity.
"Pen," which is exquisitely crafted and perceptually
almost indistinguishable from the real object, is obviously
such a manipulable item, and "Gomutebukuro (Rubber
Glove)" (2005) seems even more insistent on the
This tactility indicates material presence, but it is
the subtle coloring that reveals the sculptural material
itself. In each work, the highly realistic effect of
surface coloring fades at given points so that the clear
resin from beneath shows through, as in "Katorisenkou"
(2004), a kind of incense coil, where the green acrylic
fades out to clear unadorned resin at the outermost
tip. The point is to leave the illusion incomplete,
and perhaps to suggest immateriality in the opaque forms
that become translucent.
These ideas are developed further in the "Dress"
series in tandem with an enthusiasm for repetition.
The pieces in "Dress" have their colors drained
to grays, browns and blacks; gone too is some of the
penchant for modest dimensions. The objects often have
a found-object feel to them, like bones or barbed wire,
and Onishi has said that objects were chosen for their
absolutely plain quality -- for not being beautiful.
"Shouha Burokku" (2006) is a hollow cast of
the four-legged concrete structures conventionally placed
along coastlines to protect them from erosion by wave
movement. The four legs were originally cast from the
same single-leg component and then combined, and there
is a palpable resonance to another work, "Hone"
(2006), where four identical bones are arranged side
by side. With the tetrapod work the illusion also remains
incomplete as the four legs have been left "uncapped"
so that viewers can see inside the work to its smooth
The stony surface of "Shouha Burokku," rendered
with immaculate literalism in proper proportions and
correct techniques, suggests a kind of two-dimensional
painting surface shaped into three dimensions, foretelling
Onishi's most recent works in the "Desktop"
series. Like some of Duchamp's readymades, Onishi selects
his principal iconographic elements from commodity goods.
The debt to Duchamp, however, seems most clear in the
work "Syaberu" (2006), where a spade leans
against a wall as Duchamp had done in 1915, naming the
work "In Advance of the Broken Arm." And like
Onishi's selection of objects, Duchamp had chosen his
for their quality of "complete visual anesthesia."
The readymades were simply "chosen" from the
world of mere things and hence the artistic "making"
was abrogated. Onishi departs from that conception in
that his pieces really are labored in minute detail.
In "Desktop" works are cast only from one
side of the object, such that they are delicate casings
lacking the sturdiness of the original model objects.
Through casting on one side, these pieces become all
"surface" and Onishi emphasizes their evident
"thinness." The seeming paradox is that these
surfaces are akin to two-dimensional painted surfaces,
although they occupy a freestanding three-dimensional
real-world space. Cast sculptural surfaces conventionally
enclose an interior, which, when opened to the kind
of space gallery-goers percolate freely in as well,
makes the sculptural surface appear more like one proper
"Desktop, Dress, Gray" is a seductive showing
by a young artist whose subsequent artistic output will
be much anticipated. The finer point of the exhibition
this time around, with its engaging conceptual concerns
and trompe l'oeil finishes, is that how objects look
matters less than how they are looked at.