© Miguel Abreu Gallery
Points of view

Yuji Agematsu: Urban Ikebana

28.03.2019 | By PAOLO BOCCHI

Yuji Agematsu can find poetry in waste; Yuji Agematsu is the cantor of debris;
Yuji Agematsu tells the story of a city, New York City, by putting in place his own sort of Urban Ikebana made of rubber bands, feathers, candy wrappers, bottle caps, labels, receipts, fake nails, Q-tips… and much more.

Yuji Agematsu’s works are evidence of what extraordinary things can happen when two different cultures merge together. Yuji Agematsu, Japan-born and Brooklyn-based artist, came into this world in 1956. He was born in Kanagawa, way before the USA started to debate on putting up walls, barriers or barbed wire fences between themselves and the rest of the world. Agematsu’s migration is a work of art in itself: a gesture of peace from the inhabitant of a nuclear-bombed country, willing to forgive&forget and even move to the ‘attackers’ home for the sake of a long-term artistic project. A project that combines Japan’s ultra-refined minimalist aesthetics and a Warhol-like representation of America’s consumerism.

Yuji Agematsu can find poetry in waste; Yuji Agematsu is the cantor of debris;
Yuji Agematsu rescues what an entire city throws away in its streets; then puts the findings back into the world with a new life, thanks to his peculiar, genial vision of reality and ‘stuff’.
This is how we imagine the daily routine of a person like Yuji: early wake-up; sun salutation, where possible, from a room somewhere in the Big Apple; spacious bag, notepad, pen, tweezers of different sizes, resealable plastic bags; once chosen a neighborhood, a careful walk in the streets of the selected area, gaze on the floor; maximum attention to what lies on the sidewalks and streets; pick-up of the most interesting findings with great consideration to shapes and colors; meticulous data recording for each piece: time-place-type; return home; precise filing of all the items the daily hunt has provided.

What follows is a mental process, performed in Agematsu’s brain in the form of a “wedding ceremony”: Tokyo and New York become one, through a ritual celebrated halfway between rationality and chaos.
Ikebana’s minimalist aesthetics meets urban litter, putting in place an utterly new art form: bonsai-sized compositions where the artist represents (and the viewer can figure out) an infinite number of worlds, connections and matches.
The result is a series of sculptures that are dioramas that are atmospheres.

Through his work halfway between the methodical archivist and the pure artist struck by genius, Yuji Agematsu tells the story of a metropolis, New York City, in a series of still lives whose “ingredients” are picked up right from the city’s neglected corners, then arranged and displayed in micro-scale and elegant form. Items that were left behind, dropped intentionally or unintentionally: rubber bands, feathers, candy wrappers, bottle caps, labels, receipts, fake nails, pencils, laces, twigs, hair, fabric scraps, Q-tips, chicken feet, wires, paper tissues, chewing gums, etc.

Everything becomes precious material for tiny sculptures enclosed in the transparent cellophane of cigarette packs; sculptures whose aesthetics powerfully embodies millennia of Japanese taste and New York’s contemporary history of fast-paced consumerism at the same time.

Probably, not even Agematsu himself could imagine his life to take such an artistic&archival turn, when he moved to New York in 1980.
Nor did it happen quickly. Quite the opposite, actually.
It took 13 years for Yuji Agematsu to come across the right chance and showcase to display his art. His first exhibition was in 1993: TZ’Art&Co. But it took 20 more years to be rewarded with the satisfaction of a solo show in New York City: Real Fine Arts, Brooklyn, 2012.
That was the moment when the forgotten street items meticulously collected, recorded and archived over the years by Yuji Agematsu made their way to the showcases of a museum under the public’s gaze.

Minimalism and Materialism, Japan and USA, Tokyo and New York, Resin and Litter; in a nutshell, Yuji Agematsu is the Zen master of an art form we could definitely call “Urban Ikebana”. A step beyond Okimono.