Death Gets a Divine Touch in Katsuyo Aoki’s “Dark Globe”

Feb 19, 2016 9:48PM

Katsuyo Aoki usually shies away from talking about the mythologies that inspire her fantastic, terrifying ceramic sculptures. What she will say, though, is that they hang in the balance between the vulgar and the sacred. For the Japanese sculptor, both the ancient and modern legends associated with an icon are worthy of investigation. The resulting sculptures—wild pastiches in glinting white, at once ancient and alien—have become internationally recognized for their eerie style. They are morbid, but with a divine touch.

Aoki’s unmistakable work, which is now on display at Jason Jacques Inc. in New York, exists somewhere between the gothic, the highly fashionable, and the rococo. In “The Void” series, she explores the image of the royal crown to terrifying, historically nuanced effect. Chilly and overbearingly ornate, the crowns appear carved from bone, nearly calcified. They echo both European dynasties and casino cards. In a modern context, pushing such imagery to its absurd extreme serves as a reminder of the fleeting nature of period fashions.

For pieces in her well-known “Predictive Dream” series, Aoki takes the image of a skull—“an icon of death,” she calls it—and adorns it nearly past the point of recognition. Its new decorations, swooping lines, and decadent appendages might be at home in a demonic fairy tale.

This series, like many of the artist’s, exposes the complex and at times counterintuitive nature of our highly visual postmodern culture. In interviews, the artist has said that, as skulls pop up in fashion and entertainment, “they seem to be far from the original image of human death.” Her ceramic creations thus walk a line between the ancient crypt and our modern consumer-based culture.

The preciousness of Aoki’s sculptures—with their polished appeal and mysterious allure—has drawn parallels to religious fervor, romantic bliss, and awe that borders on worship. Though the porcelain sculptures inspire wildly different interpretations, they rest easily in a new realm between excess and beauty.

—M. Osberg

Katsuyo Aoki: Dark Globe” is on view at Jason Jacques Inc., New York, Jan. 21–Feb. 21, 2016.

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