Izumi Kato - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in association with Yongle Hong Kong Thursday, December 1, 2022 | Phillips

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  • “When I see cave paintings, I feel something very powerful. On another level, when I see Van Gogh’s work, I also have a very strong response, and I believe there is a bond with these pieces. It is the same with the work of Francis Bacon. These are paintings one can truly say are interesting works and I feel close affinities with these artists. Without sounding pretentious, perhaps I am the continuity of these artists? Perhaps, I am in the continuity of a broader tradition, at the other end of the cave paintings?”
    — Izumi Kato

    Enigmatically primitive in its presentation, the captivating forms of Izumi Kato call to mind cave drawings and majestic statues from the past. At once serene and grandiose, Untitled incorporates aspects of the classical, yet is endearingly modern as Kato’s inventive forms relate to certain aesthetic and iconographic codes that are universal and can still be resonated with today. 


    Since 2005, Kato has added sculpture into his repertoire as a natural extension of his paintings, and they now remain critical to his practice. Incorporating a variety of mediums in these works, Kato’s sculptures are hand-chiselled, with marks and cracks still visible on the surface of his roughly hewn figures. Based on instinctive premonition rather than intention, the elementary representation of bodily features in Kato’s sculptures are rendered with simple outlines, presenting to the viewer a pure and simplistic meditation on sculpture itself. 



    Installation view of the current work (right) at 
    Beijing, Red Brick Art Museum, Izumi Kato, 25 August - 14 October 2018
    Photo: Yu Xing & Li Yang, Yusuke Sato
    Image and Artwork: © 2018 Izumi Kato. Courtesy Red Brick Art Museum, the Artist and Perrotin


    Exhibited at the artist’s seminal retrospective at the Red Brick Art Museum in Beijing, Untitled features a central totem figure, protected by translucent vinyl spirits as they rest peacefully in the protagonist’s arms and on its head. Without feet, these anthropomorphic figures possess a mysterious and tranquil aura. The protagonist in Untitled gazes directly at the viewer with a pair of sparkling eyes, leaving a lingering presence, impactful with a powerful visual language that draws upon the relationship between nature and humanity.



    Spiritual Presence


    On first impression, Kato’s strange creatures with their curious expressions and missing feet seem extra-terrestrial, yet neither hostile nor benevolent. With their humanoid shape and luminous texture, the tiny vinyl figures rest atop the main protagonist in Untitled, emerging from its body. 



    Detail of the present lot


    Growing up in the seaside mountains of Shimane prefecture in Japan, Kato was surrounded by archaic religions that are still prevalent and practised in these coastal lands. Legends and folklore strongly shape the area, as one of Japan’s oldest Shinto shrines – Izumo Tisha – is still worshipped here. 


    In Shintoism, spirits are believed to be present in every part of nature, be it animals, natural phenomena, or in the environment. These white creatures present in the current work share a striking resemblance with the Kodama, or tree spirits, from Studio Ghibli's Princess Mononoke. Their faces are vaguely circular, as if pebbles sculptured from chance, pierced in irregular fashion by eyes and a mouth. Upon inspection in the dark, these figures also emit an etheral glow. This parallel is clear as in the original anime: the Kodama are silent, translucent creatures who also float about, appearing and disappearing at will, accompanying trees in life and death as protectors. 



    Kodama (tree spirits) in Studio Ghibli's Princess Mononoke, 1997
    Image: Photo 12 / Alamy Stock Photo


    Modern Totem


    As myths from his childhood home trickle down and shape Kato’s work, many of his sculptures strongly evoke the ancient figuration of primitive totems, each characterised with large heads, and mysterious, glowing yet expressionless eyes.



    Left: Totem Pole for Beaver House, mid-19th century
    Made in Q'aayang (Kayang) Village, Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia, Canada
    Collection of the Brooklyn Museum, New York
    Image: Brooklyn Museum, Museum Expedition 1911, Purchased with funds given by Robert B. Woodward, 11.703a-b
    Right: The present lot


    Most notably, Kato’s Untitled is aesthetically comparable to Japanese Dogū from the Jomon period– clay figures produced about 13,000 years ago with unique characteristics which distinguish them from ancient European or West Asian ritual figures. Similar distinct features could also be found in Kato’s sculptures, such as the round mouth, wide set eyes and prominent nose in Untitled. These Dogū act as symbols of prehistoric Japan, their influence reaching beyond that of Kato’s work and into contemporary culture, prevalent in comics and computer games.



    Dogū (Clay Figurine), Japan, Final Jōmon period, ca. 1000–300 B.C.
    Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
    Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Harry G. C. Packard Collection of Asian Art, Gift of Harry G. C. Packard, and Purchase, Fletcher, Rogers, Harris Brisbane Dick, and Louis V. Bell Funds, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and The Annenberg Fund Inc. Gift, 1975, 1975.268.193


    Paradoxically, these references are not always deliberate for Kato, even if they draw on ancient cultural traditions: ‘I have recently realised that growing up in Shimane, where the history of Jomon is very present, [it] had a much bigger influence on me than I had thought. It was felt in my daily life when I was a child until I became a teenager, and it kind of formed my aesthetics.’i


    “All the movements and compositions are arrived at instinctively, naturally, from my inner side, with all the life experience that I have gone through and digested.”
    — Izumi Kato

    Kato’s inventive totemic sculptures bestows upon us an aura that lies outside of time and space. With their posture and expression, these sculptures facilitate a connection and exchange between the viewer and the artwork, astonishing in their inexorable beauty.



    In Interview: Sculptural Dimension



    Installation view of the current work at 
    Hong Kong, Perrotin, Izumi Kato, 19 January - 6 March 2018
    Image and Artwork: © 2018 Izumi Kato. Courtesy the Artist and Perrotin


    In 2018, Izumi Kato spoke to Post-ism in an interview surrounding his 2018 exhibition with Perrotin, Hong Kong, elaborating into the creative process of his sculptural works:


    Post-ism: How does your approach to sculpture differ from that to painting? What does one allow you to do that the other doesn’t? And how do they inform each other?


    Izumi Kato: For the art, I use different materials for sculpture and the paintings. I purely want to improve my work, that’s why I get inspiration from the material and use it for my art work. It’s not intentional, the choice to make sculpture or painting. I don’t want the art work to have any [definitive] meaning. What I mean is, it’s not something I want to explain.




    Post-ism: I’m interested in this idea of dissection in your work. Your sculptures are composed of several pieces, sometimes using different materials and different forms for the head and body. And your canvases, particularly the recent series, are divided into halves or thirds and look like they have almost been collaged together. What is the thinking behind this?


    IK: As an artist I feel like I have moved on and developed from my last exhibition. I wanted to use different materials to create works as I imagine them. Even the canvas itself, last time it was one piece now two. I have gotten much more confident in using different materials, but it’s still of course the one piece of art. I think that’s where my art has become most different. I want to challenge myself. It’s like the rock music, it’s about challenging myself, and exploring new things, new materials.


    Post-ism: For some of the sculptural works in the Perrotin Hong Kong exhibition you incorporate granite found on the shore near your studio as a found object. What was it like to work with this new material? What does working with this new material bring to your work?


    IK: Painting on the stone requires more time to settle on the stone than canvas. The techniques are different, and it takes much longer. Wood and stone require a brush because the tool is much more suitable for the material.


    Upcoming work is with Hong Kong stone from the shore outside my studio. The stones have their own characteristics of the geological area. The Japanese stones in the exhibition are round, the Hong Kong ones are much pointier and sharper. Usually when I create on stones it’s different to canvas. I don’t paint the whole stone – I leave part of it unpainted. I want the audience to see the original pure stone with the work, to see the character of the stone.


    Read the full interview here 



    Collector’s Digest


    Kato’s inclusion in the 2007 Venice Biennale exhibition Think with the Senses – Feel with the Mind propelled his career onto the international stage, and he continues to garner critical attention around the world. The artist has recently been honoured with multiple institutional solo shows at CHAT Hong Kong (2020), the Red Brick Art Museum, Beijing (2020), the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum (2020). And the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (2019).


    The artist joined Stephen Friedman in 2021, and will have an upcoming solo exhibition with the gallery in November 2022, and another exhibition with WATARI-UM in Tokyo, IZUMI KATO - Parasitic Plastic Plamodels, lasting from 6 November 2022 to 12 March 2023.


    Interview with the artist on the occasion of his exhibition at Red Brick Art Museum, Beijing, 2018

    i Izumi Kato, quoted in Raphaël Gatel and Manon Lutanie, eds., Izumi Kato, Paris, 2020, p. 7

    • Provenance

      Perrotin, Hong Kong
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Hong Kong, Perrotin, Izumi Kato, 19 January - 6 March 2018
      Beijing, Red Brick Art Museum, Izumi Kato, 25 August - 14 October 2018

    • Literature

      Stephanie Bailey, 'Izumi Kato', Artforum, April 2018, vol. 56, no. 8, p. 203 (illustrated)
      Grace Ignacia See, 'Izumi Kato: "Inspiration comes from all aspects of life, simply from being alive."', the Artling, 11 September 2018, online (installation view illustrated)
      Raphaël Gatel and Manon Lutanie, eds., Izumi Kato, Paris, 2020, p. 196 (installation view illustrated)



signed and dated '2017 KATO [in English and Kanji]' on the reverse
wood, soft vinyl and acrylic
211.5 x 45 x 54 cm. (83 1/4 x 17 3/4 x 21 1/4 in.)
Executed in 2017.

Full Cataloguing

HK$1,500,000 - 2,500,000 

Sold for HK$4,410,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in association with Yongle

Hong Kong Auction 1 December 2022