Norio IMAI - Perspective in White
Galerie Richard is pleased to present Norio Imai in his New York debut solo exhibition Perspective in White from February 13th through March 29th. The artist (b. Osaka, 1946) joined the Gutai Art Association in 1965 and was the youngest member of the avant-garde collective of post-war era Japan. Imai gained early recognition for his white monochrome works that featured a sculptural quality. The artist uses the canvas in a way that allows him to experiment and develop painting in three dimensions. By doing so, he plays with light by adding tonality to the monochrome and creates fluid and organic curved lines with inherent sensuality, serenity and peace.
The major work in the exhibition is titled White Event IV (1966). The White Event series is Imai’s first experiment in Kinetic Art. His fascination for film, and the moving image in the 60’s, led him to add kinetic effects to his work. He considered that movement in art should no longer be merely visualized by an optical effect and instead opted for literal kinetics. Behind a white vertical canvas, he constructed a mechanism moved by a motor which alternatively moves two metallic bars in and out in two parts of the canvas bulging and receding outward appearance. White Event IV synthesizes Imai’s aesthetics from different mediums painting, performance, photography.
This exhibition offers an opportunity to discover eight rare works made in 1964-65, that were destroyed and recreated by the artist with ready-made objects and molded three-dimensional objects between the stretcher and the white painted canvas. The canvas is stretched by the three dimensional object. In 1964-1965 he distinctively used painted white tacks to nail the canvas flat on the stretcher. They are aligned with geometrical patterns, usually surrounding the object, so that they define a clear delimitation between the flat surface and the three dimensional one. Eliminating materiality is what he focused on in the series of early white pieces from his Gutai period.
The exhibition features six paintings entitled White Ceremony with different shaped canvases originally made in 1966 and 1967. They have been in high demanded due to their sensual reminiscence of feminine shapes, which deftly reflect “one of the most important changes that are taking place in our culture. The dimension in which we live today is increasingly shifting towards the feminine. Fluid, matrixial qualities are gaining importance over unambiguous masculinity. I would describe Imai’s work as maternal. In its complete pureness it is pregnant with possibilities.” The canvases become organic bulbous shapes, and white immaterial ethereal spaces. Like Matsutani and Shirley Kaneda’s paintings, these shapes seem to be formed spontaneously and therefore look similar to shapes we encounter in nature. This work also highlights the soft aesthetics that emerged in the 60’s inspired by the technology of the Cold War Space Race. The influence was widespread, offering sumptuous aerodynamic curves to art, design, fashion, and architecture.
The exhibition also includes several works from the late 2000’s series Shadows of Memory. The practical object is transformed into ghostly abstract shapes on the painting. Visually it is apparent that everyday items each have a different bulge in itself, and such visual characteristics of the item appear in the work. A bicycle helmet or a boat propeller is transformed into a beautiful sculpture featuring modernist abstract shapes. Shadow of Memory 038 – Spiral looks like an architectural model. The work Shadow of Memory 107 – Mandolinis a suspended painting-sculpture that we experience by visualizing its two opposite sides; on the front side we can see a musical instrument shape and on the backside we are referred to an organic bulbous shape that is more abstract or bodily related.
For Norio Imai, the possibility to represent the essence of an object – the inherent energy of a shape – are statements in these works that break through borders between painting, sculpture and performance, object and process, abstraction and figuration.
Imai first exhibited in the Gutai Pinacotheca, Osaka in 1964. He was included in every Gutai exhibition until the group broke up in 1972. He has been featured in Gutai surveys including Gutai II: 1959–1965, at Ashiya City Museum of Art and History in 1993, Japanese Art After 1945: Scream Against the Sky at Guggenheim Soho and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1994; Gutai: Splendid Playground at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 2013. Featured in renowned collections such as the Ashiya City Museum of Art and History, The Museum of Modern Art in Shiga, The Osaka Museum of Modern Art, Hyōgo Prefectural Museum of Art, The Miyagi Museum of Art, The Dallas Museum of Art, The Getty Center, Los Angeles, and Vervoordt Foundation in Wijnegen.
 Introduction in the book Norio Imai published by the Axel Vervoordt Foundation, 2013