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The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2019

All Issues
APR 2019 Issue

Arakawa: Diagrams for the Imagination

Arakawa, Blank Lines or Topological Bathing, 1980–1981. Acrylic, graphite, and marker on canvas, in 4 parts, 100 x 272 inches. © Estate of Madeline Gins. Reproduced with permission of the Estate of Madeline Gins. Photo: Rob McKeever. Courtesy Gagosian.

On View
March 5 – April 13, 2019

That in Which No. 2 (1974-75),  Sketches for An Anatomy of the Signified or If...(Part I and 2) No.5, (1974-1975): Now, if those titles and their numbers and incompletions do not put you off—and they should not, they just take time to read and think about—do please go gaze at the amazingly intricate and generally enormous paintings by Arakawa exhibited at Gagosian with enough space to bestow on them their own time. Important to so many poets and thinkers and theorists, this brilliant Japanese erstwhile neo-Dada painter and thought-provoker has to be read (seen, but more fittingly, read) with enough leisure to have the visual-verbal complications, as beautiful as they are diagrammatic, permeate your imagination.

Diagrams, indeed, but that sounds a great deal more dry than these exuberant explosions of steps and lines—all in profusion—and yet, one of the more exciting points on which to concentrate is that of BLANK. I can remember many discussions around our dinner table with Arakawa speaking about, I guess I could say performing that word and idea: Blank, one sketch in the Gagosian exhibition is labeled Blank Lines or Topological Bathing (1910–1981) and includes a vision test chart, wonderfully appropriate for our joint effort at reading these gigantic pieces, and such inscribed stencils as this in capital letters: "THE PERCEIVING OF ONESELF AS BLANK." That blank means and doesn't mean many things: the target and the whiteness and, of course, the nothingness which is usually taken to be the issue, if there is an issue. Not to be understood, since, according to Arakawa, "Understanding is usually beside the point." But being attentive to these words, lines, and arrows pointing in every direction is, it seems to me, the point. 

Arakawa, That In Which No. 2, 1974–1975. Acrylic, graphite, and marker on canvas, 65 x 102 inches. © Estate of Madeline Gins. Reproduced with permission of the Estate of Madeline Gins. Photo: Rob McKeever. Courtesy Gagosian.


Mary Ann Caws

is the Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature, English, and French at the Graduate School of the City University of New York. Her many areas of interest in twentieth-century avant-garde literature and art include Surrealism, poets René Char and André Breton, Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury group, and artists Robert Motherwell, Joseph Cornell, and Pablo Picasso. Conceptually, one of her primary themes has been the relationship between image and text.


The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2019

All Issues