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First-ever exhibition of contemporary lacquer sculpture on view at the Minneapolis Institute of Art
Aoki Chie, (born 1981), BODY 09-1 “Impact,” 2009. Lacquer and hemp cloth on foam polystyrene. Gift of the Clark Center for Japanese Art & Culture.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN.- The Minneapolis Institute of Art has organized the first comprehensive exhibition of contemporary Japanese lacquer sculpture. On view from October 7, 2017, through June 24, 2018, “Hard Bodies: Contemporary Japanese Lacquer Sculpture” features the work of 16 artists who show the evolution of lacquerware from bowls, cups, boxes, and other utilitarian objects to large-scale works that are conceptually innovative and emphasize lacquer’s sheen and lustrous beauty. The works are drawn from the Clark Collections at Mia, the only collection in the world to have substantial representation of this new form.

“The idea for this exhibition was born after several art-hunting trips to Japan in 2011 and 2012, during which Clark Center founder Bill Clark and I encountered and commissioned lacquer sculptures,” said Andreas Marks, PhD, head of the Japanese and Korean Art Department and director of the Clark Center for Japanese Art at Mia. “These sculptures were one-of-a-kind, the artists bold and brilliant, and it became our goal to assemble a compelling collection and present these works to the public, which has not been done before.”

“Hard Bodies: Contemporary Japanese Lacquer Sculpture” highlights a small but enterprising group of contemporary artists’ interpretations of an established tradition. Lacquer is a natural polymer distilled from the sap from one of three species of trees from the urushi-sumac group that grow in temperate and subtropical regions. Since the Neolithic era, lacquer has been used by artisans in Asia to coat common household items to make them resistant to both water and insects. Over the centuries, these artisans learned to pigment the sap with lampblack and cinnabar and accentuated their wares with inlaid gold, silver, mother-of-pearl, and other precious materials.

The 16 artists shown in Mia’s exhibition have pushed the medium in entirely new and dynamic directions, producing objects that range from the playful to the sublimely elegant to the fantastic. “Hard Bodies: Contemporary Japanese Lacquer Sculpture” features over 30 sculptures, including Aoki Chie’s likenesses of the human body that seem to morph or melt into bulbous forms; Kurimoto Natsuki’s The Dual Sun II, an automobile hood inlaid with mother-of-pearl; and Someya Satoshi’s Mount Bull, a mountain rising from the back of an ornately decorated bull.

“Our goal is to introduce the creativity and innovative spirit of these artists to the public,” said Marks, who organized the exhibition.

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