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Opere (Works):  

1984 - 1989 

1990 - 1996

1996 - 1999

2000 - 2003

2004 - 2005

2006 - 2007

2008 - 2009
2010 -2011





Kyoji Nagatani

From mythology to ritual


Critical essay by Lorenzo Bonini


One of the most widely diffused themes in the cultures of all ages is that of the mother with a child  her lap. Sometimes it represents the Earth Mother of all mankind in ancient religions, on occasions the Madonna and Child for the Christian religion, a most special relationship between  that ­particular mother and that particular child.

One significant example has come down to us in the form of the mother and child of Megara Hyblaea : this is a 78 cm tall limestone work dating back to about 550 BC that is now housed in the National  Archaeological Museum in Syracuse. Another is the funerary statue of a mother and Chi: Chianciano, in Tuscany: dating back to the second half of the fifth century BC, it is a 100 cm tall lime­stone work and is now in the Archaeological Museum in Florence. The subject and even the gesture of the hands holding the baby are the same. In the first statue, made in the shape of a bell, the body and the gesture are simplified and rough, yet very immediate and expressive; in the second one, of  Etruscan origin (its function was to contain the ashes of the person in w-hose tomb it was found),  the sculptor paid more attention to reality, focusing more on the firm yet delicate grip with which the  mother's hands support the sleeping infant's body. At a later date, the methods of depicting the Pietà, the Madonna lamenting the body of her dead Son, spread from the countries of Northern Europe down  into Italy. In 1498-99. Michelangelo Buonarroti sculpted the Pietà in the finest, most sublime image known to us.

Once again. the mother holds her son in her lap, but this time it is not sleeping or playing child she holds, but the adult Christ, who has died and been taken down from the cross.

The image is one of pain and desperation, yet because of the fact that the Madonna is holding her Son on her lap, just as she did when He was a child, Michelangelo has her express all the tenderness implicit in that rela­tionship. Over the centuries, this work was to become the symbol of sublimation in the awareness of peoples. Extraordinary in its characteristics and proportions, it exercises a strong power of attraction over popular imagination and sentiment: the holiness of the subject is transformed into mythology by the community. The closest and contemporary artist who demonstrated the ability to express the concept of mythology, reviving it in formal terms with works of significant secular meaning, was Henry Moore, who maximized the simplification of the forms in his 1936 stone sculpture Mother and Child (London, British Council), succeeding in rendering the indissoluble bond between mother and child, delivering the maternal attitude without describing it, vigilant and protective.



Kyoji Nagatani is very familiar with the concept I have just described, partly because his studies drew to a considerable extent on Western culture and especially on Italy, which receives extensive attention in Japan's universities. During the seventies, he visited a personal exhibition of the works of Giacomo Manzù being held in Tokyo and was so fascinated by it that he decided to do some research into the technique used by the great Italian maestro, even going so far as to adopt it and use it when modeling his own pieces.

In a recent interview, he confessed that as a child he used to dream of Italy, a place he had only known through the photographs in his schoolbooks: he blamed his grandfather and his uncle for this, becau­se they often used to travel to Italian cities for work and would always sing the praises of the beautiful places they had visited when they visited young Kyoji.

After graduating from the University of Tokyo Zoukei and the Superior Institute of Research at the Tokyo State University, he took a specialization diploma in bronze casting at the Tokyo University of Fine Arts.

In 1984, he took yet another diploma at the Brera Academy, under the tutelage of Enrico Manfrini and Alik Cavaliere. There Nagatani became even more enthusiastic about bronze as a material, with all the different and intrinsic casting methods, so that his choice of that particular academic course turned out to be the best possible, as the two lecturers were insuperable for their skill and cultural background, as well as being great teachers with the ability to transmit the secrets of working with the alloy to their students.


These skills began emerging in Nagatani when the need to develop his methodology led him to feel the urge to analyse and clarify the meaning of his signs: this became the beginning of his need to que­stion the reasons and functions of art itself. In my opinion, his 1986 bronze work entitled Changeable constitutes, in its completeness, the conceptual aspect of the artist's linguistics. His sign became the force that acts in a field, whose limits are the limits of its own influence. Three sides of this fine rec­tangular slab of bronze are finished and squared off, while the right-hand side is sinuous and rougher, left there (maybe) as a temporal premise, to offer the possibility of a new sign, like a starting moment for logical continuity and that each can undertake.

The linguistics of the sign in the work entitled Illogical is transformed into splitting, lacerating, clea­ning: it is the demonstration of the incompatibility between the restricted sign and the space. By thus changing the way in which the ambiguity of the dual space, of the outside and of the inside of the mate­rial, is represented, the philological response matches the concept perfectly. The artist's task is this above all. In fulfilling it, Nagatani undertakes that ritual that does not represent the object, but reproduces it in a different material, transposes it and consecrates it in a metaphysical dimension: the tale, the allegory, the myth. Quite apart from illustrative academicism, what we have here is the quest for the absolute in arguments for a living thought exuded by the surfaces of objects before then descen­ding into the depth of being.

Meanwhile, a comparison between the bronze sculpture entitled Throne of Silence, coloured with a dark patina and executed around 1998, and the earlier sculpture Illogical, created almost exactly ten years before, reveals evidence of the evolution experienced by Nagatani. His skills and the high degree of professional aptitude he acquired working constantly in the foundry workshop have enabled him to dominate his material, making it ductile even in his monumental works. This sculptured throne. whose dimensions are quite significant, stands out for its technical execution and the finished smooth­ness of the work - actually one of its fundamental qualities - going well beyond the symbolic concept of the theme and making it a sine qua non for the observer, to whom it offers the possibility of tacti­le perception. It is worth remembering that this sculpture can actually be used by occupying it: sitting in it and practising a meditative sit-in, while your hands flow over the polished surface of the bronze and that contact is transformed into a pleasant sensation of being protected, affectionate and embra­cing, as tender as the sensation that mother's hands know how to transmit to her child (see Foreword).

Unquestionably in this work, religious fervour unites with a lofty sense of harmony, with a direct sense of realisation, of the force of nature and of the natural law that derives from it. The breach, the gap in the rock, the grotto, the cave, the great crack, the ravine, the fissure, the cleft, the split, the opening symbolically represents the place where we can take refuge and seek protection, or withdraw in medi­tation and listen to the silent heartbeat of the universe. Yet it must be remembered that, in the field of abstract painting, and especially with regard to the current of sign and of gesture, Japan's artist internationalised the Zen concepts of the void (sunija).

Mental representation combines ethical behaviour with harmony, between the human being and natu­re: that is why Nagatani's work is intimately related to ritual, as an authentically perceived way of living. Japan has always expressed ethical values above all others in its art, the unconditional surren­der to Nature that regulates everything and to which everything returns.

"The Anima Mundi", a rather large work made in 2002 in bronze with a burgundy patina, is crossed longitudinally by a great breach that breaks (splits) its streamlined oval form, dividing it into section,;. an upper one and a lower one, with different interpretative symbolisms linked to the form: the shut­tle - the shell - overlapping hulls - or to a grain of corn, because of the groove, the most appropriate shape for identifying with the Earth: grain as the universal source of nourishment that, together with rice and Culture, gives rise to new life as it germinates. In this work, the concept of void is used as an ethical value.

In his operative phase, Nagatani is not content with merely marking a sign: he also activates it by for­ming a large split, an open breach, without altering the predetermined concept of natural fissure. This act gives the field an equally accurate dimension, which is that of space. The artist can now operate inside the material (space) and reconstruct there the symbols of the industrial archaeology that is foun­ded on consumerism, which so-called modern man leaves as the testimonial, the trace of his passing (garbage).

So the elements of the sign, in the testimony left by modern man, become indispensable for explai­ning the phenomenology of industrial production, even though an industrial product is not, strictly ­speaking, an object, because it does not identify the user as a subject, but is merely a unit in a series,  whose counterparts are a series of users. Yet it does become a model, the testimony of a certain tech­nological development where the field is the area in which it is produced and diffused, marking it with the proof of development.

It is this choice that Nagatani counters with his statement of the void (sunija), of acting, that only the artist can practice and produce, for the very reason that it cannot be traced back to an operation bound up with serial production, but to a one-off piece.


Tale and Poetic

Over and above conception in the choices made by the artist, his thinking hinges primarily on the pcetic element that acts in his work and completes it in the spirit: "the emblematic sculpture in the shape of a grain (of corn) will soon make its content germinate and become an admonition for all  those who are to come; it will be shown as the proof, it will be presented as the sign, it will appear as now  tangible, it will last as a gesture, it will be preserved as a sign, and all this will come forth from the Komb of Mother Earth. The nature of things is fond of remaining concealed, especially in sculp­ture, welcoming within it the non-visible and only showing the paradigmatic structure": (L.Q.B.)

It is often thought that the figurative arts - painting and sculpture - represent space in `still' images and cannot have anything to do with time, i.e. with the sequence of moments in which the affairs of man and of the world take place.

It is evident that there is a substantial underlying difference between the figurative arts and other arts, such as music and theatre, in which products develop in a certain measurable timeframe. Yet in many cases the figurative arts have tried to unite space and time. The cinema is a fine example: here the use of images to represent space melds with the sequence of timing that tells a story. In the figurative arts, many ideas have been studied to be able to meld space and time, when artists have had to tackle the problem of narrative. The sculptures listed here - Space in Silence, Home of Time, Intuition of Time, Navigator of Time, Door of Hope and Return to Origin -  are different works with emblematic titles that challenge fate and are dense with stupor at the secrets that govern nature: with the intelligence that springs from the design idea throughout the process of casting, Kyoji Nagatani has shown how to care for them, transforming them into a vigorous denial of the problem.

In his bronze sculpture Door of the Wind, the artist has configured the texturing in three different materials used by man in the course of his history.

The pillar on the right shows worked and chipped stone, with the abacus - grafted onto the capital - depicted in metal, with an evident high tech look. Meanwhile, the pillar on the left is conical, rounded and swollen like a wind-filled sail: its upper part ends with a flat forked joint, where the wooden (bronze) beam rests, on which a shape that is smoothed (today) by the passage of time, by the wind, rests unstably in space. Compared with the method of the past, the high tech reveals and measures the passage of time by highlighting the difference in technology. Motionless and monumental, the door stands like a triumphal gate in space: an evocative void that cuts its space out of universal space.

Nagatani transfers to the sculpture Space in Silence all the symbols of ritual with gesture. The theatre chosen to perform this ceremony as the proscenium is the peak of a mountain, where the traces of footsteps, of hands and arms of man are pressed into the soil where he has related to contemplative abstraction with his gesturing.

This is that man who joins his hands to sublimate the beauty of nature, drinking from her spring.

These are images where expressive harmony is recharged and further enriched with moods and secret impulses. Now it is images of this fundamental vision that Nagatani presents and proposes in his latest works.

Images of art are always polyvalent, when they encapsulate an authentic poetic yeast. One key of interpretation is never enough on its own, sometimes more than one is needed to break the lock: the more the meaning is concealed and hidden away behind the multiplication of facades of allusion, the more keys will be needed. The surprising thing about Nagatani's works is that their polyvalence of evocations and meanings is achieved with expressive profundity. The character of his sculpture possesses a -formal evidence that is sealed well within its plastic definition.

In this sense, a work like Return to the Origin is actually exemplary.

Ancient, vague mythology is renewed here in the desire to rediscover the identity of things lost, with natural truths of bushido. With elegant matterism, the bronze becomes wood, its veining corroded by the events of times past. Acting as a  bridge, it spans the gap between past and present. Set there as the limit of time is the door, which marks the route, alluding to passage as a return to the past, while the mass of stone - symbol of fullness - is lifted from its soil, leaving the depression, the cavity of the void. Were the stone to be put back in its place, it would be like a return to the origins of Nature.

It is the sequence in Kyoji Nagatani's theme that come at us  from the images in this personal exhibition of his, a theme that was born and has grown together with him and has been renewed in its continuity, the first sign of an inexhaustible sign that is renewed without changing, and that is the most certain sign of the artist.  It is in point of fact the sign of Nagatani.



Dear Nagatani

I saw your exhibition in Milan (with catalogue and presentation by Luciano Caramel.  It interested me a great deal: obviously you keep in mind the formal artistic tendencies in contemporary sculpture in Italy alongside Japanese tradition. In your 'beams and bases" I read a way of conceiving and thinking  which I feel close to mine and which I appreciate for its rigor and essentiality. New York is a difficult,  but at the same, time profound, city and is used to think on a large scale: I hope for you that, as you deserve, the experts will be taken by your quality in the smaller scale and the larger scale of the forms. 

Arnaldo Pomodoro


Kyoji Nagatani's sculpture flourishes artistically, and culturally, in two worlds, East and West, and from their opposition he creates something of unique and delicate sensuality at their interface. From his country of origin, Japan, he extracts an exquisite poetry of form as compact and suggestive as a haiku. This aspect of his expression encourages associations of intimacy and subjective discourse. His adopted home in the West, on the other hand, has nourished more risky and dynamic elements: surprising contrasts of crudity and refinment, and at times the ambition to fashion monumental form modulated by a very ltalianate tradition of finely crafted detail in highly polished bronze castings that recall the more elegant passages of Arnaldo Pomodoro's large sculptures. Unlike Pomodoro, however, Nagatani makes no attempt to embrace or comment upon machine forms or modern technology as such, either visually or philosophically. At their root we feel instead the profound and calming presence of landscape and a lyrical nature. 

Sam Hunter



Kyoji Nagatani's beginning, in his native Japan was deeply influenced by Western culture and Manzù holds a particular fascination for him. He first became directly acquainted with the work at an Exhibition in Tokyo and adopted the thematic and modelling styles he observed. Girls frozen into a single moment of time, full of beauty and peace; surfaces and shapes transformed by quiet levity of touch into breathing flesh, at the same time with the definitive permanence endowed by metal. It was the potential offered by casting that fascinated Nagatani during the subsequent years. Whilst interest declined in highly descriptive images, a style too obsessed with detail for people who - like he - were seeking to rediscover the exclusively Oriental drive to give substance a form. Thus we see him transfer his attentions to materials and ways of transforming them, after gaming his degrees at the Zoukei University of Tokyo and the Research Institute at the State University in the same city - specializing finally in  bronze casting. This choice only appears reductive and should not be interpreted merely from a mechanical, artisan aspect. To focus on a febrile instant symbolizes a dedication to searching for matter's most outstanding characteristics - form, irrespective of any anecdotal effusion - and     matter itself.  In this context, it is significant that on his first visit to Italy in 1979, Nagatani entered the Academia Brera attending classes given by Manfrini, undisputed expert on every aspect of actual sculpting and exceptional in revealing all the tricks of the trade to his eager pupils. This was the experimental time of casting “all'italiana”, of micro casting, casting in aluminium, some were “'figurative” works, other were not, for reasons inherent in the formative processes; there was also considerable disregard for stylistic aspects. So we see him in the early '80s creating geometric structures inclining towards the constructional, not by reasons of expressive preference, but exclusively because of his research work on aluminium. He of course reached the point where remaining an apprentice held little interest; the time soon came when the mastery he had acquired was applied to creative purposes: to endow the invisible with form if you will permit me to use an expression I particularly like. Clearly, for Nagatani, in a direction deeply influenced by thought, by Oriental spirituality. Gianfranco Bellora emphasized this point three years ago when opening the  artist's exhibition at the Studio Annunciata, referring to Zen philosophy, to the fusion of spirit and form “to embody universal emblematic con­cepts'” eliminating the “awareness of time” by the fusing together “past and future in the eternal present of the illusory sublimation of existence". This has its roots in the conscious decision to use certain materials instead of others, or certain patinas before enveloping oneself in the definition of form. Because in a certain sense, matter and colour are form, of at least they are its main component parts. The next stage was the decision to use porcelain for its qualities of transparency, essentiality and softness ‑ attributes that at first glance would appear to be contradictory to the density and durability produced by mixing kaolin, feldspar, gouache and clay. Yet they represent different co notates of a singe reality ‑ varied and complex like every other reality, or of polished bronze epitomising the duplicity of substance and lightness, of volumetric essence and impalpa­ble evanescence. But the metamorphically uncontainable nature of reflective surfaces also allows the observer to see his own self reflected; thus encroaching on the perfect entity of the forms. The reflection leads to reflective thought, the subtle et determinant infiltration of content and symbol into the matter­ form being created. Hence the subtle fascination, the magic, the intriguing nature of Nagatani's sculptures, who in this Exhibition provides us with ample proof that he is now master of his materials to the extent that he can allow himself to forget his formative ability, and use it without announcing the fact, without feeling burdened by it. Undoubtedly, in order to understand the artist's works, the observer must not anchor himself to form alone, he has to pass beyond language: between these, however, there is always the “It has been said”. First abandoning a stylistic inter­pretation or external, narrative or even worse illustrative communication, the observer must let himself be warmed by the image, immerse himself in it. It is then that he can comprehend the message‑meditation about life and death, about the present and its impact on past and future, on the body and the spirit, on good and evil, on tranquillity and anxiety and the limits of the contingent and overcoming them in the search for equilibrium of the spirit, the phenomenal and the extent to which it creates an impact in a dimension that is ontological, too. Without a Strained, powerful superimposition of meanings to be sought directly in the bright polished planes, in the breaches/fractures which criss-cross the surfaces, in the neat corners and scalloped edges, in the geometric effects where any organic intervention interrupts their abstract nature, corroding them, leaving their mark  the cones, sawn off pyramids, negatives and positives, imprints, traces and elevation, upward flight that is more than merely quantitative.

               Luciano Caramel