The exhibition of Yutaka Sone’s sculptures at the David Zwirner Gallery is a game of two halves. Downstairs are polished white marble shapes, cool and precise with a very Bond Street Gallery feel. But climb the elegant staircase and turn a corner and you’re suddenly confronted by something very different – so different you wonder if it can possibly be by the same artist. It’s a shock, but actually there’s more connection between upstairs and downstairs than you might think.
The three downstairs sculptures are all sculptures of island cities—Hong Kong Island, Little Manhattan, and the recently completed Venezia. Each city is carved in intricate detail on the surface of a single block of marble at Sone’s studio in the town of Chongwu in Fujian province in southwest China. Here he works in collaboration with local marble carvers, carving alongside members of his team as they race to complete his works.
The first of the three city sculptures in the show, Hong Kong Island was created in 1998 using maps, aerial photographs, and frequent trips to the island. It’s the smallest of the three sculptures and it’s shape is more interesting than the others, reflecting Hong Kong’s complex outline.
The largest of the three sculptures, Little Manhattan, created in 2007-2009 comes next. Technology had moved on; Sone used helicopter trips over the city and an early version of Google Earth to help him complete this work.
Finally, for Venezia, completed earlier this year, Sone relied almost exclusively on Google Earth, making only a handful of site visits. (Which seems a bit of a shame, given how lovely Venice is).
So what is it in the upstairs room that’s so different? This:
This huge Canary Island palm tree, pulsating with life, which sits in the middle of an otherwise empty room, was made in Sone’s Mexico studio. (He also has a studio in Los Angeles where he currently lives – he certainly gets around). It’s made from rattan woven around a metal armature. The leaves, stems, and trunk are hand-painted in colours chosen to reflect the intensity of the Mexican sun. It has a tremendous impact, challenging you not to accept it as real.
And that’s where the link between upstairs and downstairs strikes you; it’s the obsessive attention to detail that makes the tiny cities and the life-size tree part of the same family. Plus the fact that Sone is not a sculptor who works alone – it’s teamwork that underpins all these objects.
Sone was born in Shizuoka in Japan. His work is in the collections of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, The Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Tate Gallery, London, among many others. His 25-foot tall hand-painted sculpture, Baby Banana Tree, was installed in 2009 at the Boone Sculpture Garden at Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California.
The David Zwirner gallery is at 24 Grafton St, just off Bond St. The exhibition continues until 25th January and is open Tuesday to Saturday 10-6.