an arena: In collaboration with Barbati Gallery, Venice

April 17 - June 20, 2024

Nonaka-Hill is pleased to announce the opening of an arena, a group exhibition presented in collaboration with Barbati Gallery, Venice Italy. an arena opens Wednesday, April 17, 2024 from 6 – 8 pm and continues through June 1, 2024.


an arena assembles diverse practices in ceramic, porcelain, glass, sculpture, installation, painting, drawing and photography to muse on notions of pure materials, alchemies, gravity, chance and controlled expressions, with a wink towards the Venetian aesthetic experience. The exhibition features artworks by Ryoko Aoki, Rando Aso, Miho Dohi, Sam Gilliam, Nobuya Hitsuda, Kentaro Kawabata, Kenneth Noland, Yoichi Ohira, Sterling Ruby, Reina Sugihara, Hiroshi Sugito, Masanori Tomita, Takeshi Yasura, Daisuke Yokota.


One of Japan’s great contributions to the development of Western Art’s Modernism is the inspiring flatness of Japanese art’s picture plane.  Western conventions tended to prioritize perspective, a Renaissance achievement, with basic compositional values based on triangulated arrangement. Artworks which center on a void are rather rare in the West, but Japanese artists employed this vacant space and called it “ma”. The paintings, drawings and photographs assembled in an arena tend to be flat and lack a focal point. They activate a receptive plane which may be a frame or a floor, or have concavity such as a reservoir, a basin, a boat, a vessel or a spoon. Within an arena, countless arenas can be found.


A great admirer of Romanesque aesthetics, Nobuya Hitsuda observed the fleeting struggles of nature as Tokyo builds atop itself, much as Venice has. His flooded Reservoir 貯水池, 1997 painting feels at home in Venice, theatrically sited adjacent to Sterling Ruby’s Basin Theology/MADAME PELE, 2021, which appears as a boat, or even an archeological dig site. For both artists, banal built environments such as vacant lots, canals, fences, concrete walls are generative sites, and both offer willful flowers. Hitsuda’s Modernization of Japan’s opulent Rimpa and seasonal Yamato-e stylized painting genres cast influence over an arena.


The catalyst for an arena was a conversation on the notion of pure materials which brought comparison of Kentaro Kawabata’s Batista sculptures, comprised of sheets of raw-edged porcelain, shaped into shell-like volumes, and stained by cascades of melted colored glass to Sam Gilliam’s Color Field paintings, composed of yards of color drenched, stretcherless canvas, draped from the ceiling. Brought together in an arena, these curvaceous silhouettes are echoed by Hitsuda’s Sansui-ga inspired Mountains 山・・・, 2002 & Landscape 山水, 1997and Reina Sugihara’s Years, 2023, where visceral rounded details are alternately layered with viscous, pooled varnishes, culminating in mysterious abstraction.


Masanori Tomita’s paintings, characterized by his rich matière, employs complex colors, and broken dishes to evoke a variety of concrete images including human features, landscapes, flowers, and coalesce into opulent fields. Works by Miho Dohi aggregate disparate modest materials, often selected for their “hand-feel” as the artist sculpts rotationally, before selecting the final position. Similarly, Daisuke Yokota chemigram photographs and Rando Aso’s alchemical tableau of clay and red iron oxide express the artist’s affection for deep material experimentation, liberated from any depictive agenda in favor of chance and serendipity. 


Likewise, Takeshi Yasura’s operatic spatial installation works contemplate the cycles of nature, solar site specificity and human movement.  An arabesque thread carries drips of madder root dye to an accumulating pool on the floor plane, scenting the room. Ryoko Aoki’s nimble drawings and delicate collages depict myriad imagery without regard to consistent style, composing multi-media works which explore a personal and elastic cosmology. 


Trained in Nihon-ga and now extending the potential of the genre, Hiroshi Sugito’s atmospheric paintings depict spaces and objects in conflicting scales, questioning vantage point or vantage points. Sugito utilizes decorative vintage frames as tools for composing and compressing his reflexive images. Conversely, Kenneth Noland’s 1976 Color Field painting, a high-point in American abstraction, could demonstrate the aforementioned Japanese concept of “ma” by emphasizing void space as the main subject bracketed by graphic stripes.

Finally, a singular work of colored glass by longtime Venice resident Yoichi Ohirareminds us where we’re at; the dazzling capital of glass mastery.

an arena presents Nature vs. Culture as a tied game.



an arena was accomplished through the generous contributions of the artists and with the participation of their galleries: Gagosian, Tomio Koyama, Pierre Marie Giraud, Hagiwara Projects, Kayokoyuki, Take Ninagawa, and Misako & Rosen.

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