Kawamata’s best-known works, which have been exhibited internationally in prominent exhibitions including the Venice Biennale, Documenta 8 in Kassel, and the Bienal de São Paulo, are conceptual installations that intercept everyday consciousness by imitating aspects of modern urban demolition or construction, with a twist. The artist constructs paths, bridges, or scaffolding in populated areas, built in layered heaps from accumulations of serialized items such as wooden beams, pallets, or books. Works invite the viewer to re-examine their spatial awareness: an installation built out of hordes of piled chairs weaving through the French city of Metz in a great continuum evokes both the chaos and ennui of modern production methods and urbanity; a wooden road constructed in Japan links its viewer with the 16th-century story of Petro Kasui Kibe, one of Japan’s earliest Christian figures, and reminds us that each space we inhabit has a rich history of its own.
Kawamata’s spatial concepts are developed in the form of maquettes built out of wooden scraps, and these miniatures are each refined sculptures in their own right. Works such as Catwalk (1) (2004) and Site Plan, Paris (2) (2007) and Cathedrale de Chaise (2007) give an artistic edge to the traditional idea of an architectural model, manipulating perspective so that wall-hung works appear as deep, three-dimensional forms in space, imitating great distance through the flattening or extending of forms. These smaller works, which allow the viewer to take in Kawamata’s masterful designs in a concentrated form, truly highlight the artist’s strong awareness of overall composition and balanced, structural rhythm.