The Art of Toshiko Takaezu: In the Language of Silence
The University of North Carolina Press, 2011
160 pp., $40.00
Wombs and Bombs
Narrative art attracts critics who want to talk about sociopolitical matters in specific terms, but Takaezu's works elicit poetic and emotional responses because of their openness and refusal to commit declarative statements. The consequence is that the work is sometimes described as spiritual.
Critic Irving Sandler, the last remaining critic from the heyday of abstract expressionism, came to one of my recent exhibits and told me, "I don't know what it means by 'spiritual,' but your work is certainly very spiritual." Such words can be dimissed as evasive and dreamlike in the contemporary art world, even nonsensical, and therefore to be avoided. But Takaezu's pieces force us to reckon with "poetic and emotional" responses, circumnavigating the labyrinth of the contemporary "sociopolitical" language of art.
Just as her unflinching hand would destroy her students' work, her own hands generated work suggesting metaphors of destruction. Her larger works are literally shaped like bombs, a threatening presence of imposing size and color, reminding one of the shape of the atomic bomb dropped from the Enola Gay. I have decided, after seeing many of her pieces both in Princeton and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, that Takaezu's works are both bombs and wombs. They do not just circumnavigate the contemporary malaise, they are meant to be dropped right into the darkest arena of the arts. They are dropped as a gift into a world that has lost the habit of contemplation, and they implode silently within our anxious hearts, but as an intruding force of life. We are to be englobed by them, and are meant to wonder if art can reverse the curse.
After being asked by Princeton University to provide something for the 9/11 memorial there, Takaezu chose a bronze bell that she had created. She could have chosen any of her works. They are all her laments for an ideological age, filled with trinkets and propaganda called art. They are both wombs and bombs.
Makoto Fujimura, an artist based in New York, is the founder of the International Arts Movement. His illuminated edition of The Four Holy Gospels was published by Crossway in January.
Copyright © 2011 by the author or Christianity Today/Books & Culture magazine.
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