Yasue Maetake: Transmutations
Microscope Gallery, NY
January 29 – March 14, 2021
Yasue Maetake is a Japanese-born, Ridgewood, NY-based sculptor whose excellent show at the Microscope Gallery is now on view. Consisting of tabletop works in the gallery’s large space, Maetake’s art is composed of a mixture of unusual materials: animal bones, seashells, steel, brass, copper, cotton pulp, and synthetic clay. The works are ad-hoc improvisations that reject the tenets of linear geometric modernism; indeed, they represent an entire turn away from the studied elegance of modernist sculptural art. Instead, they appear as offbeat accumulations and placements of random materials. The overall effect of these works is haphazard, oriented toward chance, and more than a little demotic in their overall aura. This is a time of rough-and-tumble artwork, directed toward a populist audience. Maetake’s art moves in this direction, having been formed by an outlook that embraces the street, the discarded.
What can we say about a show that rejects form as a principle? Perhaps it is too extreme to make such a statement--Maetake’s work is not simply a formless aggregate; rather, it is a mass of mostly cheap materials that seem to have been put together without forethought, resulting in inchoate masses whose sculptural interest resides in the rejection of skill in favor of raw facticity. We can argue today about the loss of elegance and the rise in an art that seeks the common as the high point of its esthetic. But the discussion will not do justice to the unusual, and highly successful, combination of junk or plumbing materials and a hidden elegance that reveals itself over time. For example, in “Lineal Fetishism III” (2020), in which a brass pipe, looking a lot like a slightly bent clarinet, has been passed through the upper part of a camel bone. The sheer eccentricity of the contrasting materials makes the sculpture an interesting work. And while this artwork is simple, it indicates Maetake’s basic method: the juxtaposition of wildly different materials in forms that offer little cohesion but considerable texture.
“Lineal Fetishism I” (2020) is a more complicated work of art, being a structure issuing upward into the air. The best way to describe it is likely to regard it as a group of ascending formless masses rising from a flat series of reflective strips. A formal reading would not do the jumbled creativity of the sculpture justice; one has to learn how to read the piece differently from the formalist approach that worked well with the deliberate elegance of a modernism established before the middle of the previous century. And that is the point: we need a new critical language to do justice to an art that treats elegance as something that happened long ago. There is no point in fighting the change; it has already occurred among younger artists. In “Symbolic Atmosphere V” (2019) might be read, under duress, as a figure; a gray headlike shape tops a rise in the sculpture, with a wing-shaped form extending away from it. One mustn’t speculate too much about the possibility of figurative form in these pieces, which are more truly amalgams of materials. But the impulse to see things in a realist fashion dies hard here, or in any abstraction; it is our penchant to see a connection to the outside world that may not be there.
“Symbolic Atmosphere VI” (2019) truly looks like a tall figure with wings for arms. It is elegant in a way that the other works repudiate. Here it makes sense to identify the tall, narrow sculpture with a person, even though we recognize that the figure issues out of the generally abstract focus Maetake maintains. It has often been said that abstraction in art supports in some ways, at sometimes, a figurative realism, just as figuration makes use of elements that may be described as non-objective. Maetake is an excellent sculptor who has turned mostly toward abstraction and the tactile appreciation of materials. The question can be asked, are her choices handled in a strong enough fashion to read the work as a new leaf on the way we make three-dimensional art... I think we can agree with the artist’s originality, even if we mourn slightly the passing of beauty as it is experienced in the high culture of previous abstraction. In a way, the argument matters little. It is simply a recognition of a style changing over time. Maetake is smart enough to recognize how the terms of art change and has done so in full awareness that we are moving into a new period in art. She is to be praised for her prescience.