One of the most wonderful aspects of Azuma the man and the artist was his awareness that reality is always in the act of becoming, even when it seems to have ended. This consideration is also true of his work, work in which the material does not hide its limits but rather contains something of the process in it, a quality that gives the viewer the impression that it is ever in the process of becoming. This exhibition was conceived by Azuma and myself with the help of his son and my friend Anri. The fact that one of the three of us will not be physically present at the inauguration confirms the fact that the dialogue is still open; that there are still things to be said, that an infinite colloquy can exist, just like the MU.
This important anthological exhibition, that has been in the works for several months, to celebrate sixty years of Kengiro Azuma’s permanence in Milan has become a fitting homage, especially in light of the sad event of the artist’s recent death, that the gallery is giving to this great Japanese master, but above all, to a friend with whom he has shared many moments of artistic and intellectual growth.
Conceived site-specifically for the exhibition spaces of the gallery and mounted by Matteo Lorenzelli and Anri Ambrogio Azuma, architect and son of the artist, the exhibition shows salient moments of Azuma’s expressive trajectory beginning from his debut up to his most recent production, with a particular emphasis on his lesser known work with the aim of seizing the essence of the artist’s creative fertility and showing the vitalistic process of his work. From his university thesis at Brera to those created while he was Marino Marini’s assistant, to the mid-1960s transitional sculpture that brought him to the acquisition of complete artistic autonomy and brought him to abstract expression, we can see a rhythm of work modulated in the gallery space; writings, environmental sculpture projects, images and drawings that document the methodology and constancy of his daily working routine. From one piece to another, that which the exhibition highlights is Azuma’s personal trajectory bonded to plasticity and Oriental tradition. His artistic attitude is focused inextricably on Japanese culture in which opposites, such as fullness and emptiness, have the same value and are the two elements that have characterized his work and have stimulated its transformation into the forms that his sculptures represent; the relationship between the finite and the non-finite, matter and spirit, visible and invisible.
Jacqueline Ceresoli, co-curator of the show, wrote in the exhibition catalogue: “In Milan Azuma re-elaborates his previously cast away cultural roots, he meditates on Zen culture, on the MU (emptiness) and the YU (fullness); two non-opposing, complementary poles such as light and shadow, spirit and matter, life and death, body and soul, ugliness and beauty, classical and modern, symmetrical and disordered, harmony and chaos. Movement is the principle of being and Nature; Azuma elaborates an aesthetic study permeated with Zen thought and Western formal sensibility in which volume materializes spaces in that are in continuous transformation, a transformation that would otherwise be imperceptible. By its relationship with Nature, through the dichotomy of existence, the MU corresponds to absence, to the invisible and it is complementary to the YU, the present, the visible. The MU includes the YU to reveal itself and in 1959, with MU-00, Azuma begins to model sculpture around emptiness, volumes that give form to its essence morph his study of the meaning of life and the mystery that cloaks it.”
Among the works in the exhibition, that covers the broad arc of time from 1959 to 2016, La Luce (The Light) stands out; an installation of mirrors and metal conceived to be placed outdoors, and created in 1998. It has a great impact on the viewer due the strong inter-activity it solicits, and here the work is shown, for the first time indoors, creating the same impression.
The original intent of this exhibition was to celebrate 60 years of Azuma in Milan where he arrived as a thirty-year-old from Tokyo in 1956 with a study grant from the Italian government that would allow him to study at the Brera Fine Arts Academy with Marino Marini, to whom he will eventually become an assistant and friend until the master’s death in 1979. A series of 60 Little Drops was created for this exhibition (lost wax bronze method, h. 20 cm. realized by the Battaglia Foundry), each of which is incised with a year from 1957 to 2016. Kengiro Azuma wrote: “The idea is to represent the invisible part of man, that which does not have definite form. Feelings do not have a precise form, they are abstract. I abandoned the representation of man, dedicating myself instead to that of the spirit. I have realized many bronze drops of water because a drop of water can never be seen perfectly. As soon as the drop leaves the drainpipe it assumes a perfect form that we are unable seize with our eyes. I believe that our lives are a bit like this. We shall never be perfect human beings like a drop of water is a perfect form, not even if with profound study. I put holes in the bronze drop.
That which renders a glass such is not the material of which it is made, but rather its empty space that is filled with the drink that we pour into it. I therefore try to express by using that which is truly important, the empty space, that is to say, the spirit, friendship, true solidarity, a way of coexistence. I must, with my sensibility, understand where to place the empty spaces in order to communicate that which I intend to communicate.” The exhibition is furnished with a bilingual (Italian/English) catalogue with color reproductions of all the exhibited work, texts by Jacqueline Ceresoli, Mami and Anri Ambrogio Azuma, with testimonials by Bruno, Matteo and Massimiliano Lorenzelli.