Rakuko Naito: Permutation-Variant-Structure

Maiden Lane Exhibition Space
September 25, 2009 – January 15, 2010

Both papermaking and the art of working with paper are highly regarded aesthetic practices in Japan. The quality of the material, as in the processing of the fibers within the paper pulp, carries a certain hierarchical significance accompanied by traditional methods of working, which are commonly understood by artists trained in one or more of the great classical traditions in Asia. By comparison, from a Western point of view, there is a tendency to see a painting on paper as inferior to one painted on canvas. It is also relatively unthinkable to consider paper as a material in making sculptural form (except, perhaps, as a crude form of papier maché). In Japan, however, the choice and application of papers are often delicately refined and thus elevated to an aesthetic that closely examines them from the perspective of connoisseurship. This aesthetic involvement with the medium directly influences the way artists think and work. It could be argued that the distance or separation between art and aesthetics in Japanese culture is considerably less than it is in the West. For example, artists who work with paper in Kyoto or Nagoya each carry their own history and therefore hold a certain veneration for the qualities of a specific paper. Where kozo paper is known for its rough surface, mino paper is more refined. Both are made from handmade pulp. The consideration of paper type is generally less critical in the West, even in Europe, except of course in the field of conservation, where the understanding of the material composition of the paper in master drawings, especially, is given high priority.

Rakuko Naito, "Untitled" (2005/09), wire mesh
and paper. Collection of the artist.

Rakuko Naito is a Japanese-born artist who has lived (with her husband Tadaaki Kuwayama) in New York for more than 50 years. Her career began as an optical painter in the early 60s, then moved to photography, and, in recent years, has focused on paper relief forms, systemically placed in shallow boxes or suspended in wire mesh cubes. Examples of each process were recently exhibited at the Maiden Lane Exhibition Space in lower Manhattan. Naito’s art is about precision and balance. She has given a general title to the two works installed at either end of the lobby floor,

“Permutation—Variant—Structure.” In some ways her title implies a synthesis between the work of the late Bauhaus painter, Josef Albers, and the minimal seriations employed by the late American artist, Donald Judd—two artists for whom Naito holds considerable admiration.

What gives her work its own ineluctable presence is the manner in which she has constructed small folded paper modules that work as a series of repeated patterns within each domain. The four white cubes on the right side of the lobby measure 24 × 24 × 24 inches and sit directly on the floor in a quadrant formation. As one peers down into each cube, grid-like arrangements of folded paper and/or cotton forms appear on a single shelf close to the top, sealed under glass. On the left side of the lobby, 30 small wire mesh cubes, each measuring 8 × 8 × 8 inches, are suspended in six sections from the ceiling. Arranged according to a zigzag pattern, each of the six sections has five cubes that descend vertically and equidistantly in relation to one another. Two of these five cubes contain folded paper shapes while three are left empty.

Whereas the four white cubes of the right side convey stasis, the wire mesh cubes on the left suggest kinesis. The white cubes force us to look downward, while the wire mesh cubes allow us to look upward or at eye-level. As the four white cubes depend on gravity, the wire mesh cubes imply transcendence or flotation, an ineffable lightness that moves in relation to our movements. As we circumambulate these primary forms, various moiré patterns begin to shift back and forth. While these forms are built on an inherent logical process, what we experience in the act of viewing them becomes difficult to re-order in terms of logic. Like the red and white stone arches in the interior of the Mosque of Córdoba in southern Spain, Rakuko Naito’s suspended cubes defy the systemic logic that brought them into existence. Paradoxically, they exist according to their own nature through the manifestation of human thought as human thought enters into the method by which paper is selected, folded, and placed in a systemic pattern. The Constructivist Naum Gabo once predicted that the concept of art would ultimately find parity with science. Rather than existing in opposition to one another, Gabo insisted, science and art will become two sides of the same phenomenon, the same mystery that guides the universe into being through permutation, variance, and structure. While Gabo understood this dualistic premise from a Western perspective, one might say that Naito sees it from another tradition in which the hand and eye of the artist delegate significance to the holistic properties of the medium.


Robert C. Morgan

Robert C. Morgan is a writer, international art critic, curator, poet, lecturer, and artist. His most recent book is Clement Greenberg: Late Writings (2003). He holds both an MFA in Sculpture and a Ph.D. in Art History. He is currently Adjunct Professor of Fine Art at Pratt Institute.