Portland art blog + news + exhibition reviews + galleries + contemporary northwest art

recent entries

Giving Thanks Readings
Meet RACC's new leader Madison Cario
November Reviews
Early November Links
Spooky reviews
Countdown to Portlandageddon?
Mid October Links including PNCA/OCAC merger talks
Paul Allen, philanthropist and arts champion dead at 65
Midwest Art Initiative Tour
Haunting October Picks
End of September News
September review cluster

recent comments



Book Review
Calls for Artists
Design Review
Openings & Events
About PORT

regular contributors


Tori Abernathy
Amy Bernstein
Katherine Bovee
Emily Cappa
Patrick Collier
Arcy Douglass
Megan Driscoll
Jesse Hayward
Sarah Henderson
Jeff Jahn
Kelly Kutchko
Drew Lenihan
Victor Maldonado
Christopher Moon
Jascha Owens
Alex Rauch
Gary Wiseman



Guest Contributors
Past Contributors
November 2018
October 2018
September 2018
August 2018
July 2018
June 2018
May 2018
April 2018
March 2018
February 2018
January 2018
December 2017
November 2017
October 2017
September 2017
August 2017
July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005

contact us


Contact us






powered by


Movable Type 3.16

This site is licensed under a


Creative Commons License

Friday 02.11.11

« APEX: Geraldine Ondrizek | Main | one more opportunity »

Ishimoto Yasuhiro's Katsura at Portland Japanese Garden

Credit (c) Ishimoto Yasuhiro, Interior of the Old Shoin Viewed from the East

The Portland Japanese Garden's Katsura exhibition and The Ma of Modernism offer a rewarding look at Japanese architecture and form.

The Katsura Detached Palace is one of those all time masterpieces of architecture, like the Parthenon, St. Peter's Basilica or The Great Pyramid... its mere existence conveys much more than a series of rooms and an exterior form. It's an embodiment of an idealized worldview and therefore acts as a symbol of national identity that goes way beyond individuals, becoming so emblematic that its reputation transcends that culture. In fact, it so impressed the Bauhaus' Walter Gropius upon visiting it that in many ways its design DNA can be found everywhere in high modernist architecture. It has gone beyond architecture and become an idea. Yet, the palace itself is more of an incidental jumble that conveys a sense of enduring imperial succession rather than Gropius's high modernist architectural language. Lately, deconstructionist architects like Herzog & De Meuron and Rem Koolhaas have made careers of this elegant type of structural dissonance.

credit (c) Ishimoto Yasuhiro, Moss Garden and Stepping Stones in front of the Middle Shoin

Master photographer Ishimoto Yasuhiro, a Japanese American who took up photography while being held in an internment camp during WWII, found Katsura as a subject just as incredibly loaded as his street photography. With the advent of the cold war suddenly Modernism and Japan were key to Post WWII politics and Yasuhiro found his voice in that discussion. In fact, the photos were originally commissioned by The Museum of Modern Art and are related to other modernist photography like Aaron Siskind and the modernist paintings of Hans Hoffman.

credit (c) Ishimoto Yasuhiro, Right to Left: Old Shoin, Middle Shoin and New Goten Viewed from the East

The Katsura Detached Palace is Shindin-Zukun style (palace and garden with the building as the focal point) and was originally constructed for holding poetry readings and observing the moon during the tsukimi festival in the Heian period (710-1185). During this period gardens and their structures shifted from being sites of religious focus to places of amusement, contemplation and the arts. Also, the architecture is less about its interior than the way it relates to the nature outside. In fact, the moon viewing platform is the focal point around which the entire complex is constructed.

East_Veranda_ Music_Room.jpg
credit (c) Ishimoto Yasuhiro, Middle Shoin Right and the New Goten left Viewed from the East Veranda of the Music Room

What Yasuhiro grasps so well is the inherently poetic play of the structure which is in itself a amalgamation of three separate structures whose divergent details still act as a harmonious whole.

Installation view (photo Jeff Jahn)

Thus, despite being highly formal, like any building built for feudal court life the structures convey an incidental ease. Yasuhiro grasped these concepts incredibly well and his photos compositions make use of the cascading framing devices in the palace. He captures the incredible lining and perspectives perfectly in photographs like Interior of the Old Shoin, Viewed from the East and Main Room of the Old Shoin,Viewed from the North-east. Second Room in the Foreground.

IshimotoYasuhiro_lnterior_ Tea Ceremony_sm.jpg
credit (c) Ishimoto Yasuhiro, Interior of the Shokatei Pavilion Preparation Space for the Tea Ceremony

What's more his photos always seem to highlight subtle changes in materials and textures of the structure. Yasuhiro's photos are highly formal and the light he captures is soft and diffuse... any streaks of sunlight as in Interior of the Shokatatei Pavillion, Preparation Space for the Tea Ceremony are more like quiet guests, showing off Yasuhiro's abilities in the darkroom (akin to the Tea Ceremony in its own ways).

Installation view of Part of the Formal Stone Pavement and Moss-grown Stone Near the Main Entrance of the Old Shoin

These are generally not very high contrast B&W photos and instead consist of a soft diffuse cascade of shoji walls and support beams, which remind me somewhat of Robert Irwin's scrim pieces. Yet these are different as the images constantly shift from more documentary architectural shots to abstracted textural studies. In fact the only prominent photographer who reminds me of this very refined sort of macrocosm/microcosm work is Todd Eberle (whose Donald Judd and Cern Large Hadron Collider images convey a similarly enlightened zen-like outlook).

credit (c) Ishimoto Yasuhiro Main Room Right and the Second Room Left of the Middle Shoin Viewed from the NE

The Japanese Garden can only show 25 of the 50 images at a time so it's worth visiting this weekend then for a return visit next week when there will be another batch on display. The exhibition pavilion itself is remarkable since Portland's Japanese Garden is rightly considered one of the very best outside of Japan. Placing images of a Japanese Garden within the pavilion of another Japanese Garden turns out to be a surprisingly inspired idea. Thanks to The Japan Foundation for bringing this to Portland.

Daniel Fagereng's Semi-Habitat (photo Jeff Jahn)

There is also an exhibition of Daniel Fagereng's the Ma of Modernsim box constructions in the same space which enhances the exploration of Japanese style construction and materials. Fagereng studied Nog mask carving in Kyoto and these poetic structures have a lightness that remind me of the pavilion they are housed in as well as the Detached Katsura Palace. Highlights by Fagereng include Semi-Habitat, Enclosed Veranda-Tsukeshoin and Hanbun-Hanimichi.

Unfortunately many of these works though meant to be seen from two sides were positioned against walls, as a group they show an intense familiarity for modern Japanese living but are perhaps outclassed by the poetic images of the Katsura Detached Palace, which is a living shrine... whereas Fagereng's boxes feel like nostalgic mementos related to a tradition of craft and his time in Kyoto. I'd like to see Fagereng's take on more present materials as the boxes show promise but feel... just a bit too contained in size and ambition.

Overall the two shows have a nice symmetry and I like the non white box arrangement of the exhibition and bucks the modernist-postmodern legacy of sterile spaces with zero personality. It is also nice to have such a world class venue like Portland's Japanese Garden doing significant contemporary and modern shows that stretch their cultural mission. In many ways Portland's art scene is closer to Asia than it is to New York (though it is a very small planet these days).

Through February 20th

Posted by Jeff Jahn on February 11, 2011 at 15:38 | Comments (0)


Post a comment

Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Remember me?

s p o n s o r s
Site Design: Jennifer Armbrust   •   Site Development: Philippe Blanc & Katherine Bovee