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Minoru Nomata, Seoul (2024)

Minoru Nomata

映遠 – Far Sights

12 January – 2 March 2024


12 January – 2 March 2024


White Cube Seoul

6, Dosan-daero 45-gil 
South Korea

Nomata likens his process to ‘daydreaming in an awakened state of reality’. Often completing paintings over a four- to five-year period, the artist’s landscapes are imbued with a lingering sense of déjà-vu, as though ‘I have seen what was already there’.

White Cube is pleased to present ‘映遠 – Far Sights’, an exhibition of paintings and works on paper by Japanese artist Minoru Nomata. For his debut presentation in Korea, Nomata invokes the aesthetics of the sublime to explore the notion of boundless expanse – whether that be in the mind or our very universe. Conveyed through the first part of the title ‘映遠’, to mean ‘reflecting distance’ in Japanese, Nomata envisions landscapes where vertiginous architectural forms stand in serene grandeur, emerging from low horizon lines that blur the frontier between Earth and the cosmos. Spanning the past two decades of the artist’s practice, the works in this exhibition negotiate realities both concrete and oneiric, embracing uncertainties of time, place and perspective.

Nomata’s intricate yet vacant architectonic, sculptural and imaginary structures evoke a disquieting sense of solitude. Influenced by the ambience of generative electronic music and the landscapes of retro-futuristic science fiction films and literature, these towering edifices appear to float or ascend from flat, desolated terrains, bathed in a theatrical, directional light. Executed with exquisite detail that traces fine, skeletal scaffolding, arrow-slit windows, billowing sails of ivory fabric and axial structures of latticed metal, Nomata’s visionary imagery could be the stage set for a film or a play yet to be resolved.

Nomata likens his process to ‘daydreaming in an awakened state of reality’. Often completing paintings over a four- to five-year period, the artist’s landscapes are imbued with a lingering sense of déjà-vu, as though ‘I have seen what was already there’. Growing up in an industrialised neighbourhood of central Tokyo, his work traces a history of urban landscape painting, from that of the 20th-century ‘precisionist’ painter Charles Sheeler and the Bauhaus luminary Lyonel Feininger, to the visual kinetics of Op Art and the fluid style of Symbolism and Art Deco. Reflecting the iterative cycle of de-construction and re-building inherent to Japanese architectural processes, Nomata has stated that ‘the present, the past and the future exist at the same time’ in his paintings. Slender towers, intricately constructed pylons and monumental ramps together form a ‘nameless architecture’ – a generative compendium of styles and assemblages.

The works in the exhibition are unified by a notion of the sublime, where the behemoth proportions of Nomata’s architectures serve only to amplify the vastness of the surrounding landscape. In his early ‘Eastbound’ series from the late 1990s, executed in acrylic on canvas, he draws from the imagery of the rising sun to reference affirmative concepts of the east. Creating these panoramic expanses, Nomata was partly inspired by the Belgian Symbolist Fernand Khnopff, an artist associated with Japonisme and Eastern aesthetics. The ‘Eastbound’ series employs a form of reverse observation, examining Japanese culture from an external perspective. Drawing on memories of growing up in industrial Tokyo, especially those associated with the local bathhouse – a constant visual motif in his youth – the structures in ‘Eastbound’ appear both distant and inviting.

Visions of buildings, once demolished but persisting in memory, characterise the ‘Ghost’ series, created during the mid-2010s. Exploring concepts of erasure, these works resonate with the phenomenon of ‘ghosting’ in old TV production – a process where multiple versions of the transmitted image are layered to create an echo effect. This result is often observed when a TV signal travels by two different paths. Ghost-2 and Ghost-8 (both 2014) depict towering structures inverted at their base. Their symmetry gives rise to polysemic interpretations, bridging diametric conditions – that of light and shadow, the aerial and the subaquatic, the past and the future. Their intangible foundations evoke imagery reminiscent of floating fortresses or remnants of a dream. This imagery continues in ascending descending-8 (2018), where a balloon-like form is tethered to the ground by long ropes. Combining ebullient whimsy with physical dislocation, the painting serves as the artist’s personal response to our escalating global crises – an attempt to disengage from a world at the mercy of human society and its failing systems of value.

The ‘Far Sights’ series, which comprises both painting and finely detailed, soft brown Conté crayon drawings inspired by Old Master techniques, sees imagery merge with the conditions of its production. Created in a modest four-square-metre studio within his parents’ house, Nomata drew parallels to the intimate spatial confines of the Chashitsu – an architectural space designed to house Japanese tea ceremonies. In this environment, Nomata found resonances between the infinite possibilities of the imagination and the notion of a vast cosmic expanse. Here, Nomata envisions the Chashitsu as a towering edifice, bridging the terrestrial realm with the heavens – physically proximate to the infinity ‘above’ and separated from earthly concerns.

Nomata’s choice of medium to reflect the origin of his subjects is similarly evident in the earlier ‘Seeds’ series, which are rendered using colour pencil, pastel and charcoal on gessoed plywood panels in a technique inspired by Medieval Icons and Renaissance painting. While the recent series of watercolours, titled ‘Rectangular Drawings’, use colour in layered, fine mark making to build a language of exuberant, fenestrated and trussed forms. Produced directly after the ‘Square Drawings’, they break with the norms of the ‘comfortable’ proportion of painting, adopting a long, thin format that lends itself to the searing verticality of these towering motifs.

Devoid of identifiable markers, Nomata’s silent landscapes reveal diverse conditions: from nuclear ruination to cosmic infinitude, from the relentless glare of industrial light to the enduring waxing and waning of solar energy. Within these works, the mortal ambitions of human endeavour contend with the supreme boundlessness of an unknowable universe.

Minoru Nomata (b.1955) lives and works in Tokyo. He studied design at the Tokyo University of the Arts, graduating in 1979 before taking up a position in an advertising agency in the city. After five years Nomata left in order to focus on his painting practice, and in 1986 held his debut exhibition ‘STILL – Quiet Garden’ at the Sagacho Exhibit Space, an alternative gallery in Tokyo run by Kazuko Koike. Further solo exhibitions include Meguro Museum of Art, Tokyo (1993); Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery (2004); The Museum of Modern Art, Gunma, Japan (2010); De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, UK (2022); and Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery (2023). Until recently, Nomata was a Professor at the Joshibi University of Art and Design in Tokyo.

Installation Views

Featured Works

Minoru Nomata

Points of View-31, 2004

Minoru Nomata

Far Sights-2, 2009

Minoru Nomata

Forthcoming Places-6, 1996

Minoru Nomata

Eastbound-3, 1999

Minoru Nomata

Eastbound-25, 1999

Minoru Nomata

Far Sights-2010, 2010

Minoru Nomata

Far Sights-7, 2009

Price upon request

Minoru Nomata

ascending descending-8, 2018

Featured Film

5 Questions with Minoru Nomata

On the occasion of Minoru Nomata's exhibition ‘映遠 – Far Sights’ at White Cube Seoul, the artist answers 5 questions on his practice and explores the various inspirations that inform his paintings.

Minoru Nomata

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