108 Blue Cranes

The new show at Rule Gallery is exquisitely crafted and intelligently conceived.

The crane reference is also pointed. In his artist's statement, Saito explains that the crane is a symbol of peace in Japan and that origami renditions of the majestic birds are commonly used to express "a wish for good luck, health and happiness for others," which is precisely "the idea of compassion." Though the elements in Saito's piece do not take the shape of birds as the origami ones do, he links his process of producing the separate panels of "108 Blue Cranes" to the repetitious folding of paper needed to create the origami versions. So for him, the sculpture is about his own "wishes for peace and happiness for everyone."

The most recently done sculpture in the show is a direct outgrowth of "108 Cranes." After arriving in Denver, Saito began "Untitled (Starry Night #1)" by purchasing a painted copy of Van Gogh's "Starry Night" and casting it in bronze. Since the surface of the copy had visible brushwork, his sculpture does, too, though the ghost image of the composition is almost impossible to see. We wouldn't recognize "Untitled" as having come out of a copy of "Starry Night" if Saito hadn't told us.

The Saito show at Rule stuck with me, and its contradictory aspects -- the stuff the artist calls "anarchistic" -- began to come through more and more as I thought about it. Superficially, the exhibit looks to be made up of minimalist work, since the pieces are based on things like boxes and flat panels. The installation, too, underscores the minimalist aesthetic, with the pieces seeming to be completely repetitious. But appearances notwithstanding, the show is actually anti-minimalist. This point is clearly made by "108 Blue Cranes," because the elements are actually examples of realism. After all, Saito has made realistic versions of canvases out of bronze. The same realist approach is seen in the other works that depict cardboard or wood. Saito also adds a surrealist element, and his bronze canvases are theoretically linked to surrealism, bringing to mind Meret Oppenheim's famous fur-lined teacup from the 1930s. Oppenheim changed the very nature of an everyday object by denying its reality, substituting a soft material, the fur, for a hard one, the ceramic underneath. In the same way, if from an opposite perspective, Saito takes the pliable material of canvas, transforming it into the rigid stuff of metal.

Installation view of 108 Blue Cranes, by Yoshitomo Saito, cast bronze.
Installation view of 108 Blue Cranes, by Yoshitomo Saito, cast bronze.


Through March 17, Rule Gallery, 227 Broadway, 303-777-9473.

Yoshitomo Saito's 108 Blue Cranes at Rule is downright spectacular and stands out as one of the best efforts to be mounted in town this season. Take my advice and check it out if you haven't already -- but do it soon, because it's nearing the end of its run.

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