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To kick off the new year, Nonaka-Hill is showing the work of Tadaaki Kuwayama, whose slick and slender painted aluminum surfaces wrap around the entire perimeter of the gallery’s single, split room. The near-uniform pieces in this serial installation, titled TK286-1/2-2-99 (1999), each consist of two identical joined rectangles, creating a crease that traces down the center of their smooth surfaces. In color, they alternate between shimmering natural aluminum and a pastel pink. The soft, flickering calmness of these sensitively-handled blank totems is jarring when considering the frantic pace of modern life. When minimalism first entered the zeitgeist, society was speeding up (as the booming of the aerospace and plastics industries attest), and the technical proficiency of the minimalist can sometimes be associated with this industrial ambition. These days, items like these offer the kind of respite from senseless stimulation that ought to be a requirement for sanity and survival. In the face of cosmopolitan confrontation, Kuwayama’s color fields beg viewers to slow down and take a breath.
Kuwayama, now 86, moved to New York from Tokyo at age 26, just over a decade after the United States nuked his nation—a true post-war artist. This particular body of his work exemplifies his idea of the purity of painting, which contrasted the highfalutin fracas being perpetuated in New York’s art scene in the ‘50s and ‘60s when the young artist arrived there. Barnett Newman’s spirituality and Donald Judd’s severity were overtly self-righteous; Claes Oldenburg’s sagging sculptures could veer into superficiality. Unlike many of his East Coast peers, Kuwayama rejected broad-stroke applications; instead of relying on combative gestures or didactic pontification, he and his measured facades promote a more meditative practice via sexy art objects.
Twenty years after their making, these works feel at home here in Los Angeles, a synthetic city with a long history of self-care, wellness, tight bodies, and smooth skin. They also feel at ease within the legacy of meditative minimalism going back to the sensory interventions of Robert Irwin and the sensual materiality of John McCracken. After enduring endless exhausting car rides and traffic jams, the typical Angeleno will find a reprieve in Kuwayama’s offering in this Hollywood strip-mall storefront. Do yourself a favor: Pull off the roads and meditate on this repetitive, oscillating optical affair.
Tadaaki Kuwayama runs from January 12–February 16 at Nonaka-Hill (720 N. Highland Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90038).