Yuko Sakurai: New works

4 September - 6 October 2020

The new works that Yuko Sakurai (*1970) presents in what is now her fourth solo exhibition at Galerie Friedrich Müller are of compelling sensitivity. This is without doubt the result of her remaining in Japan and forgoing the trips abroad that were so important for her earlier works. Internalization and concentration, on the one hand, and a surprising diversity of formal instruments, on the other, characterize the works she has produced in recent years. If you review the exhibits, you cannot fail to be surprised at the wide range of ways she treats color and creates shapes. From almost monochrome, only delicately nuanced works to highly contrasting color combinations, from loose, freely flowing brushstrokes to compact “constructed” rasterized areas of color. There are works that focus on the visual aspect of the coloring and others in which the tactile, cracked texture of the relief-like paint dominates. Although normally Sakurai’s trademark seems to be the application of paint over a large area, the diptych “Kamakura” features a surprising, dense grid of innumerable paper-thin lines that she has scored into the still wet paint.

However, this diversity is not an indication of arbitrariness, but rather derives from a strict sense of form and attests to her freedom in handling artistic instruments that are novel in the work of Yuko Sakurai. While observing her works it is advisable to bear in mind that she does not by any means construe them as paintings. Rather, her pieces can be considered as objects that, though they might have been produced using oil paint on various base materials, do not follow any logic of painting. They are carefully crafted, flat objects in which every detail is important and contributes to the overall appearance. Their status as objects is easily recognized in the small formats, and it is on these that the exhibition concentrates. The often irregular or frayed edges serve to emphasize the materiality of the works and their tactile qualities.

The new liberty that Yuko Sakurai permits herself is also evident in the fact that aside from the traditional Japanese ‘washi’ paper that she has used as a base for her works for many years, she now also makes use of textiles – more precisely fragments of clothing that she has kept from the time long ago that she spent in the Netherlands. This aspect – the fact that the textiles are charged with memories and experiences – is key for it constitutes the basis for her further treatment of the objects.

Something that is no different from past years is the fact that the subjects of her works are the places and regions she visited whose atmosphere she captures with all her senses. However, recollection also plays a decisive role but in another sense in those works that refer to Fukushima. They form part of a long-term project that Sakurai started in 2012 and that refers to the nuclear catastrophe in March 2011. Sakurai produces such works at different places in response to coming across the subject – such as after visiting an exhibition in Kanazawa. What is remarkable is that she always employs red for them; as a color associated with alarms and emergencies it is intended to remind of the disaster and keep the memory of the suffering experienced by people in the region of Fukushima alive in the viewers.

Peter Lodermeyer