Art in America
By Elisa Decker
Mayumi Sarai's third solo show at Lohin Geduld featured 15 deftly carved sculptures, all but one wall-hung. Sarai uses found wood collected from different sources, sometimes antique pine reclaimed from demolition sites; she is also fond of cypress. Born in Japan, the New Jersey-based artist moved to New York City in 1991. She studied at Nihon University College of Art in Tokyo and the New York Studio School.
Using special Japanese chisels, Sarai fashions individual units, which she then assembles into various combinations. Recurring shapes include bowls, balls and rings. Two painting exhibitions that she saw in 2009-the Metropolitan Museum's "Pierre Bonnard: The Late Still Lifes and Interiors" and the Philadelphia Museum's "Cezanne and Beyond"—while working on the bowl—and ball-shaped elements particularly influenced her thinking about how to arrange her objects in space. The titles for three small sculptures (all 2010) credit those artists directly. Sarai cites Bonnard's The Cherries (1923) as the inspiration for Still Life Painting after Bonnard (2010). Her version depicts a tight pile of meticulously faceted balls gathered in the bottom of a shallow bowl. The wood grain's concentric flow accentuates volume in the "cherries" and contrasts with rough chisel marks inside the upper portion of the bowl. Compared to Bonnard's unruly cherries, some dancing at the bowl's rim, Sarai's more orderly arrangement may have more in common with Cézanne's Still Life with a Plate of Cherries (1885-87). Sarai's still-life sculptures, displayed as they are on the wall, defy gravity, appearing like objects on a Cubist tabletop; they also bring to mind Matisse's Bowl of Apples on a Table (1916).
Bowls (106 by 58 by 6 inches, 2009) featured a wall of over 100 bowls, some with balls and others empty. Dramatic shadows added to the overall effect. Some groupings were carved from one piece of wood. If the wall were a tabletop, the tableau might have resembled artifacts waiting to be catalogued. Botanical Mask #2 and three other related works (all 2009) go beyond the bowl as vessel. A cluster of lively irregular concave forms, connected to a base in the center via concealed pegs, seems to float, evoking halves of opened seedpods, comical ears or blaring trumpets.
In Cloud #3 (2011), layers of O-shaped elements, lightly stained white, create a pile on the wall, playing with positive and negative space. Ring Cycle (88 by 89 by 73 inches, 2011) comprises four large rings, each made of several intertwining strands of small spheres. Two of the rings stand upright and a third links through them, tilted up slightly from the floor.
The fourth ring hangs on the wall behind them, but seen from a certain angle appears to be part of the configuration, reminiscent of a DNA strand.
By Jonathan Goodman
Mayumi Sarai Lo
Lori Bookstein Fine Art
Mayumi Sarai is a Japanese-born Sculptor who traind at the Nihon University College of Art in Tokyo and at the New York Studio School. Currently, she pursues her career as a carver in Bayonne, New Jersey, and Colchester, New York. Her strongly three-dimentional pieces often take the form of repetitive spheres, fashioned in such a way as to look like a larger gestalt such as a knot or braid of hair. These forms reiterate her talent for building bigger images from small units or modules of construction. In general, Sarai's work tends to be relatively neutral in the debate over influence or conscious cultural hybridity; it speaks instead to the interesting interstice between abstraction and figuration, so that viewers can read the works either way. This penchant for being in between styles and mediums is neither Western nor Japanese; it is a place where many contemporary artists currently dwell, seeking an eclecticism that bends genres, definitions, and allegiances in original, but not specifically national or geographical ways.
Sarai's "Knot#2" (2011) verges on the monumental. Though fairly narrow, it pushes into surrounding space quite forcefully. The small, stained wooden spheres, carved from a branch into units of five or 10, are assembled into the final form, which demonstrates a palpable force born of extreme tangibility. There is something highly satisfying about this way of working, which emphasizes the exterior touch of the sculpture's individual elements. The work begins with a single strand, which grows in number to two or more and culminates in a knot two-thirds of the way down the sculpture. In "Portrait of My Hair" (2009), the configuration is relatively close to "Knot #2"; the long form is fairly narrow and extends outward into space. It suggests braided hair or dreadlocks, perhaps even a dialogue with African tribal arts.
Because of the influences that inform Sarai's work, which are said to include both African and Buddhist sculpture, it is hard to keep to a completely formal reading. At the same time, she gives a nod to activities traditionally considered womaen's work: braiding hair, weaving textiles, sewing quilts. These suggestions of different cultures and activities broaden the interest of her work beyond mere technical or formal achievement.
Her recent show also included "Beginning", a site-specific installation of nine similar works. Though these elements combine into a single work, each one also remains an individual effort in its own right. They look like nodes from which mushroom-like forms protrude. Like the other two works, these pieces are made from wood. Sarai's title gives guidance to the way we are to see them-as the start of something bigger rising from nest-like origins. Seen in a group on the wall, they make a statement of startling complexity and force. They demonstrate the craft, intelligence, and feeling essential to all good art.
By Jonathan Goodman
Japanese-born Mayumi Sarai moved to New York City in 1991, continuing her education at the New York Studio School after graduating from Nihon University Collage of Art in Tokyo. She currently lives and works in Jersey City, New Jersey, where she carves wood into distinctive conglomerations of small ball-like forms that aggregate into larger constructions. Her creativity, which is considerble, emerges from the way that she relates the small elements of her wooden sculptures to the complete form, influences as diverse as Buddhist art from China and Japan and African fetish and fertility figures combine to give her work a surprisingly postmodern ambiance, despite the age-old continuity of her craft. There is a particular satisfaction in the merger of technical skill and the larger, spiritual role played by the sculptures in all of their complexity; like a fractal, the gestalt of each work suggests a similarity to the smaller components of which it is composed.
Sarai's work is particularly attractive for its ties to the history of carving. Her idiosyncrasy of form remains close to the traditional, but, at the same time, the sculpture is autobiographical. Charmingly, the work resembles the intricate weavings of her own braided hair. The combined influences suggest a context in which her art may exist improvisatorially, building a language whose spontaneity results from a very real presence in the connected worlds of culture and nature. One can see this in Botanical Creatures (2005), a grouping of 10 elements made of crape mytle wood, which appear to be small blond pods bursting with flowers. Despite the obvious reference to nature, it is clear that this piece is carved. Its meaningfulness as a cultural construct is no less than its attention to nature, and the balance, or perhaps more accurately the tension, between the two modes of being gives the work its eccentric inventiveness, filled with the awareness of form.
Sarai is not afraid of self- refrencing in her work. Two of her most interesting sculptures come from the series "Like My Hair, Like a Tree". #3 rises 79 inches into the air, supported by several legs joining together as they move up into the heart of the work. The piece looks like braided hair, hence the biographical nod. At the same time, even though it is composed of small clusters of ball shapes, it may be read as a small tree. Although #2 takes a more diagonal form, the overall effect is similar-that of a tree arching out empty space. The two works are marvelously surreal excursions into forms that engage a series of mixed intentions, building an idiom that recalls very human identifications. As the press materials point out, Sarai's goals are neither worryingly gradiose nor deceivingly modest; rather, they are human in the sense that the sculptres openly reference the body. These two examples brilliantly solve the problem of figuration co-existing with abstract form; the series title contextualizes their human influences while indicating a relationschip with nature. Sarai covers all ground, reminding her audience that the figure exists happily in nature, indeed is part of nature itself.
Untitled (after Thousand-armed Kwannon)(2005) refers to the Japanese Buddhist goddess of mercy. It consists of faceted spheres attached to the ends of extended spidles that emanate from a tight nucleus attached to the wall. Unpainted and rough in appearance, the work seems more a version of nature than an evocation of a cultural presence. Beast (2005), which extends some 25 inches from the wall, seems equally quirky, composed of small black-painted balls bundled together, as well as several straight lines of spheres that move toward the viewer. An oddly constructed work (not without a certain charm), it suggests a monstrous entity new to the world. Generally speaking, there is an insouciance to Sarai's art that gives it an enjoyable presence, not least because it is finally so human in both its goals and formal intentions. She offers shapes both humorous and magical, making sure that we appreciate her aesthetic even as we ponder her interwoven connection to nature and culture.
By Sarah Fensom
The Color of Jersey 10 contemporary artists who embody the Garden State palette
Mayumi Sarai Bayonne
“For me it’s always been sculpture,” says Mayumi Sarai, an artist who was born in Aichi, Japan, and has been working in New Jersey since 1994. “I like material with weight and texture. It’s more physical. After a day of working with it, I get tired, and I like that.”
The bulk of Sarai’s sculpture is carved from wood and often made up of components that are arranged or mounted together to create a larger, cohesive work — the way that stars form a constellation or atoms make up molecules. An avid recycler of objects, Sarai, 46, says that she often finds branches in the park and puts them to use. “I’ll use a broken plunger or a wine box. There’s a kind of forgiveness to the material, and it’s natural. It doesn’t harm the environment.”
For “Ring Cycle” (2011), a large-scale cypress-wood sculpture made up of four wreaths — one on the wall and three intertwined, as if wrestling, on the floor — Sarai chiseled hundreds of tangerine-sized spheres and connected them with dowels. They have an organic plasticity that seems to defy the inherently rigid nature of the wood. Each wreath has multiple strands of spheres that weave around each other like beads jumbled in a jewelry box.
“I don’t really think about science, but people will ask me, ‘Is this DNA?’ and I realize it could be — it’s all connected somehow,” she says.
Sarai, whose studio is in Bayonne, is represented by Lohin Geduld Gallery in New York. She has work in the collections of the Hunterdon Museum of Art in Clinton, the Jersey City Museum, the Montclair Art Museum, the Morris Museum of Art, the Noyes Museum of Art in Oceanville and the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum (Rutgers University) in New Brunswick. Last summer, Sarai had a solo show at the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton.