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Arts / Museums

Blossom Power

Belgium, the Earth’s Edge & Space Set Up Artist’s Groundbreaking Dallas Moment

BY Catherine D. Anspon and Rebecca Sherman // 11.25.15

In every age, there are visual innovators who make a statement with fresh ideas, novel materials or unorthodox subjects to such an extent as to truly break ground or even forge a new movement — Michael Heizer and Robert Smithson with Earth Art, James Turrell and Robert Irwin with Light and Space, Miriam Schapiro and Kim MacConnel with Pattern and Decoration, Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party and Feminist Art, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein via Campbell’s soup cans and Benday-dotted Pop …

Such is the case with a show that recently opened at Zhulong Gallery in Dallas. Visitors will be challenged to come up with a term for the art shown by Tokyo-based floral designer/sculptor/ installation artist Azuma Makoto, who posits a new way of combining art, science and nature. (We propose “Blossom Power.” Perhaps “Bonsai around the World.”) Penning this preview as a haiku would befit such a beautiful subject: a sole bonsai encased in a steel carapace, living tree and root paired with handmade resin leaves and precariously, dramatically suspended in the gallery’s perfect cube.

The exhibition within, “Shiki: Landscape and Beyond,” references the shiki sculpture that is the artist’s trope, which appears in accompanying images shot by long-term collaborator Shiinoki Shunsuke. The exhibition includes stills and works flashing by on digital monitors, both serving up exotic locales — Nordic glaciers, an abandoned power plant in Belgium, painterly sandstone escarpments in the Southwest and heart-stopping views from the edge of the Earth captured during the shiki’s surprising voyage into near space.

A lavish 200-page catalog, just released and available at Zhulong ($30, $80 for collector edition) documents it all —significantly, Azuma’s first-ever international gallery debut.

Astute gallery-goers may sense echoes of ikebana, but Azuma moves far beyond that Japanese tradition. Lush yet controlled, minimalist yet epic, these works have largely remained a secret in the States until now. From unexpected beginnings in 2002 with his Tokyo luxury flower shop, Jardins des Fleurs (which offered couture bouquets designed on the spot, more akin to sculpture than mere flower arrangement), Azuma has begun his ascent toward infiltrating the lofty echelons of the art world.

He’s also liberally cross-pollinated in the fashion realm, with commissions for Dries Van Noten, Hermès, Ferragamo, Helmut Lang, Boucheron and Perrier-Jouët throughout Asia, as well as projects in South America and Europe. His entry into Texas, where fashion and art frequently cross, looks as promising as a bloom on one of the artist’s extraordinary, densely imagined blossom installations.

In a related happening, in late October, Makoto, Shunsuke, and five Shinto priests were flown to Dallas from their hometown on Japan’s Kyushu island. The high priests, who had previously performed in the U.S. only for the United Nations, executed an ancient ritual dance from their village at Zhulong Gallery for invited art patrons. The performance was followed by a private candle-lit dinner in the gallery, with guests dining on chef Tre Wilcox’s artistic dishes. You couldn’t ask for a more dramatic backdrop. Azuma’s monumentally sized pine bonsai — suspended by steel cables within a massive steel cage — set the stage.

Azuma and Shiinoki are childhood friends, now in their late 30s, who started out as musicians. To earn extra money, they opened a floral design shop, which they still operate as a pop-up around the world, including in Paris and most recently in Shanghai. “I was fascinated by the flowers that were discarded, the ones that were dying,” Azuma says.

That set the course for their artistic collaboration recording an uprooted bonsai on its trajectory across the globe. It took a team of 14 — many of them fellow villagers — to pull off the 10-year effort to document the bonsai in its dozen or so far-flung locations. His first visit to Dallas proved to be a success: A local collector snapped up the huge shiki (bonsai shrine) sculpture, priced at $60,000, and is building an entire room to house it.

Looking East: Selwyn Rayzor, Claire Grant, Becky and Ken Bruder, Sheryl and Eric Mass, the Crow Collection’s Amy Lewis Hofland, joined by gallery owners Erin and Bob Corcoran, and Zhulong director/curator Aja Martin.

(Azuma Makoto’s “Shiki: Landscape and Beyond” at Zhulong Gallery, through December 5.)

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