Remembering Nobuo Sekine

May 14, 2019

Nobuo Sekine

It is with deep reverence that Blum & Poe honors the passing of Nobuo Sekine (b. 1942; d. 2019). We celebrate his legacy of resolutely pushing the conceptual boundaries of ephemeral, site-specific, installation, and sculptural art within the historical lineage of Japan and beyond. 

In the late 1960s, Sekine began to engage with the concept of "phase" in topology, a branch of mathematics concerned with abstract space and connectedness – specifically the properties that are preserved under continuous deformations. Through this discipline, Sekine perceived form, matter, and space as infinitely malleable. 

Sekine then made an indelible impact on the course of Japanese art history at the end of 1968, when he exhibited Phase-Mother Earth at the 1st Contemporary Sculpture Exhibition at the Suma Rikyu Park in Kobe, Japan. This iconic work, which consisted of a cylindrical hole in the ground, seven feet wide and nine feet deep, accompanied by an adjacent cylindrical tower of earth molded into exactly the same dimensions, inspired artist-theorist Lee Ufan to develop new theories of phenomenology in a contemporary Japanese context. These theories provided a conceptual framework within which to understand the work of several artists working in the similarly ephemeral, site-specific modes, such as Susumu Koshimizu and Kishio Suga -- who along with Sekine and Lee came to be referred to as Mono-ha ("school of things").  

Later in the 1970s, Sekine began to focus on his sculptural practice, one that nevertheless refers to topology. Sekine considered the dispersal of his work in an exhibition space to be a "topological scene" governed by aesthetic principles similar to those found in Zen rock gardens – namely, asymmetric arrangements of disparate elements that combine to represent a broader landscape of seas, islands, and mountains. In the 1990s and 2000s, Sekine was commissioned to make public sculptures at sites all over Japan. 

As curator Mika Yoshitake once described his works, almost mystically, "the works operate as a process of perceiving a perpetually passing present that opens the materiality of the work beyond what is simply seen."

Sekine's life's work has forever impacted his peers and generations to come; he is an irreplaceable pillar of contemporary Japanese art history and the formation of the Mono-ha school. He is survived by his wife Yoko and two children, Teo and Arisa. 

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