the environmental sculptor

6. Kuetani and environmental art in the second half of the twentieth century

Kuetani is thus a primarily environmental sculptor. In his work imaginative reference to the planning dimension is not occasional with respect to a commitment mainly directed towards an object-oriented measure of sculpture, but on the contrary a wholly predominant and constant feature. The results of the work performed during the 1980s and 1990s in the creation of various ensembles of environmental sculpture – and especially a plastic-architectonic ensemble of such complexity and unusual size as the Hill of Hope – stand authoritatively alongside numerous works by other sculptors, also of the previous generation, operating in different cultural spheres on the environmental scale.

Environmental sculpture is practise rather than “poetics”, i.e. a way of operating in terms of sculptural planning on environmental space, be it urban or natural, external or internal, a way of operating or operative practise where each artist can develop his or her own plastic discourse and fulfill the intentions of his or her own “poetics”. There are thus very different ways of working in environmental space, and this results in the rich phenomenological variety of contemporary environmental sculpture, which has established itself above all in the last decades of the second half of the twentieth century.(17) At the same time, however, it was as long ago as 1957-58 that Mathias Goeritz constructed a powerful urban landmark in the Square of Five Towers at the entrance to the Satellite City of Mexico City: a group of essential tower-shaped cement structures of different colors, about forty meters in height, and geometrically aligned in dynamic perspectives. And back in 1945 Isamu Noguchi conceived a surrealist-inspired organic environmental ensemble for the St. Louis Jefferson Memorial Competition together with the architect Edward D. Stone, followed in 1952 by the Garden of the Lever Bros. Building on Park Avenue, New York.

In the early 1970s Somaini produced plans for large-scale works within the urban and architectonic context of the contemporary metropolis (skyscrapers) that were also associated with particular functions (to mark underpasses, entrances to subway stations, etc.). He proposed macro-interventions in the urban context (e.g. the 1980 plans for the restructuring of Gustaf Gru¨ndgens Platz in Du¨sseldorf) characterized by an exuberant, organic plasticity intended to evoke primal vitality and memories of human history in the increasingly anonymous and oblivious metropolis. Staccioli’s work from the early 1970s on is instead characterized by stark, geometrical structures constituting new signals of emotive and ideological warning in the natural or urban context. (Many will recall the huge square wall erected at the entrance to the 1978 Venice Biennial to challenge the celebratory nature of the main avenue leading to the central pavilion, and the enormous curved comma-shaped structure of red cement entitled Seoul ’88 and erected in the Seoul Olympic Park in 1988.)

In the environmental work of Niki de Saint Phalle, sculpture tends to turn into architecture in a highly colorful, animistic, monstrous, magical, figurative sense. This is especially so in the Giardino dei Tarocchi (Tarot Garden) created between 1979 and 1990 at Capalbio in southern Tuscany, a plastic-architectonic setting placed in the open countryside to form a site with a very strong and imaginative magical-fairytale impact in the violent exaltation of its plastic configuration, and particularly in the dazzling intensity of the colored mosaics covering each element. In the numerous works of Pietro Cascella and those of Gio` Pomodoro sculpture tends to turn into environment through a dissemination of plastic elements constituting practicable, visitable ensembles, places for everyday life. Cascella accentuates the affably dialogical accessibility of every plastic structure and form, and of the very treatment to which the material is subjected (very often bushhammered travertine or Carrara marble). Examples include the Monument to the Martyrdom of the Polish People and Other Peoples, a work of black sandstone erected at Auschwitz in 1962-67, the Monument to All Days erected in the piazza in front of the Cathedral of Pescina in Abruzzo in 1982-83, and especially the Monument to Giuseppe Mazzini erected in the Piazza della Repubblica, Milan, in 1970-74. Pomodoro instead accentuates the abstract, magical rigor of structures constituting accessible environmental ensembles laden with symbolic and historical references. Examples include the Platform for Collective Use: To Gramsci erected in 1977 at Ales in Sardinia, the ensemble entitled Sun-Moon-Tree erected in Piazza Ramazzotti at Monza in 1981-86, and especially the Place of the Four Cardinal Points erected in 1989 at Taino in the province of Varese.

J?rgen Haugen S?rensen (a Danish artist influenced by the organic approach of the North European “Cobra” group, but living at Pietrasanta, not far from Carrara) started work in the early 1970s on environmental sculpture understood as a disseminated ensemble of plastic elements of very different forms and predominantly organic overtones with particular attention to the various ways of working stone. Examples include the ensembles erected in 1971-73 for the Danish School of Journalism in Copenhagen and in 1978-79 for the University of Copenhagen. His more recent work shows a greater unity of plastic structures and the use of raw, primal forms (as in the Rain House erected in Copenhagen in 1993).

In connection with this disseminated form of environmental setting, attention must also be drawn of course to previous works by Noguchi developed through reference to the tradition of the Japanese garden in the use of uncut stone (as in the Garden of the UNESCO Building in Paris, 1956-58, or using Japanese river pebbles, as in the Garden of the Chase Manhattan Bank Plaza in New York, 1961-64), or using partly worked and partly natural granite elements (as in the sculptural ensemble erected in front of the First National Bank in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1960-61).
Other sculptors have developed environmental situations in more open spaces on an architectural or town-planning scale, as exemplified by the work entitled Pergola erected by Enric Miralles on Avenida Icaria in the Olympic Village of Barcelona. This is particularly the case of Dany Karavan, whose works stretch from the Negev Monument (1962-68, Beer Sheva, Israel), White Square (1987-88, Tel Aviv) and Way of Light (1987-88, Seoul) up to the Axe Majeur, the enormous ensemble of structural urban signs that he has been constructing at Cergy Pontoise, near Paris, since 1980, introducing extended plastic routes and plastic-structural urban points of reference both in an architectonic context created by Ricardo Bofill and in relation to the nature of the site. The environmental work of Bukichi Inoue also develops within a rigorously architectonic framework where the various plastic elements, which are always formally absolute, are embedded in an environmental architectonic context designed by the sculptor as an environmental village or urban setting (as in the project of Murou Village, 1998).

Here too, however, attention must be drawn to the complex plastic-architectonic projects developed by Noguchi as long ago as the 1950s in terms of formally calibrated geometrical volumes: the 1952 Memorial to the Dead for Hiroshima and the 1957 Memorial to Buddha. Nor should we forget Garden, the formally mental plastic ensemble created in an open space of the Beineke Rare Book Library of Yale University at New Haven in 1960-64.(18)

Kuetani does not design plastic environmental situations that are architectonically dominated, i.e. where the architectonic component overwhelms the sculptural. For Kuetani it is sculpture that can turn into architecture, and not the other way round. In this sense in particular, the ensembles of environmental sculpture produced in the 1980s display affinities with the plastic environmental ensembles produced by Cascella and S?rensen. With the latter he also shares an organic approach and a highly accentuated focus on the expressive possibilities of working the stone, which he undertakes in person, never delegating the task to others except of course in projects such as the Hill of Hope. And it is precisely on such an occasion that the eminently plastic and sculptural value attributed by Kuetani to the spatial architectonic arrangement of his ensembles becomes most evident.

Copyright © Itto Kuetani All Rights Reserved.
Powered by WordPress & BizVektor Theme by Vektor,Inc. technology.