Kohei Nawa


I met Kohei Nawa early on in my research stay in Tokyo—at the SCAI booth at the 2007 Art Fair, where one of his characteristic “catalyst” drawings was evolving in tiny strokes across the white walls. I was struck immediately by the intensity and commitment of this then 32 year old artist, brought up in the Kyoto art school environment with international polish from residencies in Germany and England. I was lucky then to visit his studio/factory in Kyoto, just before his breakthrough showing and sales at Art Basel that year. His hard working team of college assistants were setting up one of the now famous pixcell deer sculptures for photographing and then crating for Europe. It was spectacular to see it for the first time.

Nawa impresses immediately with his systematicity, the distinct methodology he employs to arrange his various art experiments, which involve a random acquisition of objects and the consistent transformation of them through “neutralisation” into a kind of physically imagined digitalisation. I was worried initially about the whiff of Damian Hirst about the whole operation; but the commitment to serious exploration rather than cheap shot conceptual ideas, and the consistently beautiful, unearthly objects he made remove it clearly from that kind of classification. The white glass cube of the upstairs gallery space in Renzo Piano’s still breathtaking Hermes building in Ginza ought to be the perfect place for Nawa’s work. Nawa mentions to me that he has had some problems with the light in the building, but the pieces work perfectly in the space. Nawa plays it minimal – three works, each illustrating a stage in the transformation process, from liquid to beads to scum. Two white illuminated boxes of silicon bubble precisely like a mathematical illustration in one darkened room; in the other, more temple like space, there is another large animal sculpture transformed into glass pixcells, and a third composition of everyday objects – toys, consumer junk, other everyday bits and pieces – covered in a strange fur like coating. This last parade of neutralised objects bears some relation to Teppei Kaneuji’s recent white discharge pieces, but the arrangement is much more classical – the effect almost like putting an altar in the space.

I still have some reservations about Nawa’s immensely ambitious program. How wasteful are the production processes behind some of these immaculate finished objects ? How expensive is all this to make? The moment may be drifting away from art as pricey object towards a more economical style of art and craft. And is this work too cool, too serious for an international art market that is mostly obsessed with gimmicks, glamour and throwaway concepts? I’m not too worried. Nawa’s current work leans towards contemporary architecture and design, and there is a rich crossover line here to pursue. Nawa is one of the few contemporaries coming out of art who you feel can be shown seriously in the context of contemporary design; most young artists attempts to keep up with technology are much less convincing, much less elegant. Nawa’s references are older and sounder: to abstraction and minimalism that will age a lot better than the recent waves of monstrous plastic art that have been filling gallery spaces globally. His next international steps will be interesting to watch; this Hermes showing for sure will be widely noticed.

@ Hermes, Ginza, until Sept 23rd. For a series of good images of the show see:







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