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Close Look

The Extraordinary Naturalism of Yutaka Sone


The Extraordinary Naturalism of Yutaka Sone
A work from Yutaka Sone's "Micro Snowflake Photo" series

Instead of depicting nature as a sublime force in the manner of Caspar David Friedrich or J.M.W. Turner, the Japanese artist Yutaka Sone addresses the natural world through sculptures, paintings, and drawings that depart from art-historical tradition by using tricks of scale and perspective to render the most familiar aspects of the environment uncanny, and strangely intimate.

Baby Banana Tree, 2007-08

Whenever Sone creates a work, it is in search of “landscapes that people, including artists, will never know, can never dominate, and never reach,” he has stated. He has downsized mountain ranges until they don’t even fill the floor of a small gallery space—as in his project for the 2003 Venice Biennale's Japanese pavilion—and, with Baby Banana Tree (2007-08), created a 25-foot-tall sculpture of a tropical plant that, despite its title, isn't baby-sized at all.

Little Manhattan, 2007-2009

Marble is a medium of choice for the artist, and his virtuosity with the classical stone is evident in his meticulously rendered, impossibly elegant sculptures of cityscapes and highways. Little Manhattan—exhibited in Sone’s most important exhibition to date, a 2011 solo show at David Zwirner Gallery—is a landscape of the island metropolis carved out of a 2.5-ton block of marble that scales the Empire State building down to the size of a child’s finger and still manages to retain every bit of detail. Sone’s work forces the viewer to confront this iconic landscape in new ways—seen from overhead, laid out in pristine white marble, New York City seems considerably more placid. 

Micro Snowflake Photograph from Yutaka Snow Studio – 1, 2005

Sone also enjoys maximizing tiny natural elements, for instance making drawings and sculptures of snowflakes—a recurring motif—that dramatically enlarge their crystalline forms until every detail is visible. Immortalizing an evanescent object that melts at the touch, the series becomes an opportunity to appreciate a natural state that's normally in constant flux. Sone’s snowflakes have also edged into abstraction with the Micro Snowflake Photo series, in which he photographed snow at close range to expose each crystalline filigree.

Sometimes these flakes are half-melted; other times they appear perfect in a way that only nature itself can achieve. Playing with the relationship between photography and documentation, and merging realism with elements of abstraction, these photographs get to the heart of Sone's work—forcing us to consider anew the world around us, which all too often we take for granted.


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