Kohei Nawa, “Throne,” Musée du Louvre

Kohei Nawa’s Throne is on view at the Louvre this year as part of “Japonisme 2018: Souls in Harmony,” a city-wide exhibition program in Paris launched with the purpose of commemorating the 160th anniversary of diplomatic relations between France and Japan and the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration. Installed beneath the soaring glass of I. M. Pei’s pyramids, Throne illuminates the entrance to the museum with startlingly glaring vibrance, an ornate and fiery centerpiece to an already imposing gateway. The monumental sculpture is 10.4 meters high and weighs three tons (the precise weight capacity of pyramid) and is comprised of an astonishing amalgamation of dense plastic material and golf leaf. Kohei Nawa, born in Osaka in 1975, commingles distinct polarities in this piece—digital media and Japanese craft, heft and suspension, jagged sharpness and sensuous curves—all of which cohere into an astonishing form of sculptural alchemy. The striking combination of protruding spikes and bubble-like forms was carved by robotic arms, while the dazzling gilt exterior was meticulously applied by hand by a team of Japanese artisans, a painstaking process that took months. 

Nawa has published an artist statement concerning this piece, asserting the following sentiment: “In our increasingly globalized world, diversity is an essential element in the transformation and growth of society. Single systems of absolute values and principles used to color the lives of large numbers of people under the rule of royalty or monarchy, but such coherence is now rare. However, the process of computers and artificial intelligence is accelerating, and if they reach the stage where they boast artificial intelligence, society and whole nations are likely to blindly follow them.” In this sense, Nawa’s sculpture asks viewers to consider the ideologies, mechanisms, and material trappings of power and authority, a prompt made all the more pressing through the throne’s prominent vacancy. Who will next “take the throne?” Is it possible that A.I. will eventually assume the influence formerly held by political regimes, by human beings? These are sobering questions that do not offer easy answers. Nevertheless, it is especially fitting that such an extravagant, imperious work has been installed not only within the museum’s glass pyramid, the very emblem of mighty writ in ancient Egypt, but also inside the Louvre itself, a former fortress of Phillip II of France during the late 12th and 13th centuries. Nawa has commented on the poignancy of the sculpture’s setting in an interview with Jae Lee of The Japan Times: “I see the location as a connecting portal of modern lifestyles and the past. From the street level, you enter the pyramid and (to get to the museum) you descend to where history lives.”

It is difficult to draw a concrete conclusion regarding the overall meaning and impact of Kohei Nawa’s Throne, especially in relation to the broader “Japonisme” theme of the Souls in Harmony exhibition program. I would postulate, however, that it is the work’s profound hybridity—as a sculptural synthesis of seemingly opposing entities, processes, and media— that is the key to its thematic resonance in this commemorative context. The very term “Japonisme” conjures a similarly bewildering, contradictory, and problematic host of meanings and connotations. The encounter between Japan and France, “East” and “West,” in the nineteenth century fomented a surge of images, materials, objects, and ideas that bespeak cultural entanglement and mutual influence during a time of immense geo-political change, escalating colonialist policies, mounting nationalism, and political upheaval. The combinatory quality of Throne, as well as its conspicuous commentary on power and influence, together invite us to consider the broader stakes of globalism today, in political, technological, and material terms. —Ramey Mize

The author outside of I. M. Pei’s glass pyramid, the entrance to the Louvre and the setting for Kohei Nawa’s “Throne.”


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November 2, 2018