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  • Meg Ubel

NEW on VIEW: Double Header

There are two new artworks on the second floor that are worth a look if you haven’t run across them yet. Both pack a punch visually and could work with a variety of tours and themes.

Bundle, 2019, Matt-glasedStoneware Sculpture by Tanaka Yu, 2020-21

Gift of funds from Gordon Brodfuehrer in honor of Michael and Tamara Root and the Gary L. Gliem Endowment for Art Acquisition • On View in Gallery 222

Within the formal and refined space of the Japanese Audience Hall in G222 there’s an unexpected burst of bright yellow. This new work appears on first glance to be a spherical object, swathed in a piece of cloth tied with a large knot and placed on the floor in the center of the room. In reality, this is Bundle, a stoneware sculpture created by contemporary Japanese ceramic artist Tanaka Yū in 2020-2021.

This piece is intriguing on many levels: We’re seeing a non-functional contemporary sculpture that is skillfully made to look like a cloth-wrapped utilitarian object, but we’re also drawn to look and imagine what could possibly be hidden under the folds. We can also ponder the meaning of functional vs. non-functional, both in art and in life - and we might just wonder how the artist possibly made this look so realistic.

Tanaka Yū was born in 1989 in Japan, a third-generation ceramicist. Though she initially studied oil painting, she soon switched over to ceramics because she was drawn to the physicality of working with clay. Her work evokes the use of furoshiki, a traditional Japanese wrapping cloth used to wrap and transport clothes, boxed gifts or other goods. Yū comments, “My work has always been inspired by the art of Japanese wrapping. I am intrigued by the idea of using a piece of cloth to enclose objects. A furoshiki is simple yet versatile. Throughout history, the Japanese have creatively used textiles to wrap a variety of everyday goods.” Bundle is part of a series Yū calls tsutsumimono, or “wrapped things”.

Yū makes her sculptures by first selecting a simple solid object and wrapping it in cloth, adjusting the direction of the folds and the location of the knot to create her “model”. She then coil-builds pliable Shigaraki-blended clay into the desired form using wooden support blocks to keep the damp clay from sagging during the process. To create the smooth surface, she sponges the clay and applies clay slip with a brush or airbrush. The deep yellow color is a reference to ukon-nono, a traditional cotton cloth dyed with turmeric so as to repel worms and insects. Yū achieves the intense color by applying two coats of pigment before the initial firing, then repeating the process up to four times after firing.

Tom Jones preparing to embellish a photo in his home studio, a former church in Prairie du Sac, WI

Credit: Amber Arnold, Wisconsin State Journal

Exhibition of “Strong Unrelenting Spirits” • Credit: Institute of American Indian Arts,

Moving on to the Americas galleries we find the engaging Robin King, a multimedia portrait of a young Native American girl, in G261. This work is by Tom Jones, a photographer, multimedia artist and professor of photography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Jones’ work is grounded in his perspective as a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, whose traditional lands are in Wisconsin and southwestern Minnesota. He dedicates his art to exploring Native identity and showing love and respect for the people in his community.

In Robin King, we see a photograph of the girl wearing traditional Ho-Chunk regalia, including numerous bone-beaded necklaces and a glass-beaded sash around her neck. She stands tall, gazing out with an expression that is both innocent and steady, radiating resilience and pride. Horizontal geometric designs surround her, composed of large white buttons, beads and rhinestones on a black ground. The embellishments are hand-stitched directly onto the photographic paper, thus extending the boundaries of photography as a medium. Jones considers these designs with their small white forms to be a “metaphor for the spirits of our ancestors who are constantly looking over us.” The designs also echo those on Pendleton blankets. For many Native Americans, the gift of a woolen blanket, typically a Pendleton, is considered highly special and significant. These blankets have been for hundreds of years a traditional way to honor and recognize someone who has made important contributions to the community or achieved a significant milestone.

Robin King is part of a series called “Strong Unrelenting Spirits”, in which Jones has created portraits of contemporary Ho-Chunk people across a spectrum of ages, including babies. Some subjects wear traditional dress, while others are in fully modern garb. The embellished backgrounds include both geometric and floral designs. Taken together, the portraits create a narrative of the Ho-Chunk identity and the complex mixture of history, tradition and contemporary life that make up this community. Before coming to Mia, Robin King was part of an exhibition of this “Strong Unrelenting Spirits” series at the Museum of the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe.

This work, viewed on its own, shows us a young girl who is proud of her identity, beautifully adorned and surrounded with pattern in a photograph that has been elaborately embellished. In this we might find some parallels to our New on View work from the last issue, God’s Gift by Tawny Chatmon. Children and adults both might enjoy comparing and contrasting these two works.

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