While this was not Noriyuki Haraguchi’s first New York show, he’s little known here, which is not the case in Japan. He was one of the students involved in the important Mono-ha movement in the late ’60s and early ’70s and has exhibited regularly since then. His European exposure began with Documenta 6 (1977), when he was one of the first two Asians included in that quinquennial. He showed a memorable “oil pool”: a low metal container that took up most of the gallery was filled with waste oil, making an opaque and gorgeously reflective surface also notable for its odor.
Haraguchi’s work has always been materials- or experience-centered; that was part of the Mono-ha ideology, to focus on the significance and presence of raw material. He favors industrial substances without charm, such as concrete and steel. But here the industrial was conveyed via image or allusion. One of the oldest works, Tsumu 147 (1966), is a mixed-mediums-on-panel piece. With its aligned rows of black (painted) rectangles on a grubby brown background, protruding metal handles and what looks like an aged and cruddy latch mechanism, it evokes a louvered engine cover. Nearby was a tiny model of a battleship in a Plexiglas case that makes up the top quarter of an otherwise white-painted box hanging on the wall (also 1966).
A battleship model might sound like child’s play, but it suits the exhibition’s theme, “Works from Yokosuka.” The city where Haraguchi grew up, Yokosuka is the site of a U.S. naval base. The other pieces in the show had to do with the bodies of fighter jets and evolved from the artist’s often-recounted experience of following the tail-and-exhaust assembly of a plane being moved down a highway one night. Two 1969 wall works, Air Pipe B and C, are abstracted forms consisting of a plywood oval not quite perpendicular to the wall, with white-painted canvas stapled around its edges and sweeping out onto the wall in exquisitely gentle but taut and sharply cropped curves.
The centerpiece of the show was the new work A-7 E Corsair II (2011), a 14-foot-tall construction that nearly fills the room. It’s a tail assembly, carefully constructed of wooden ribs, metal flanges and raw-canvas skin with graphite markings. Looking through it toward the oval rear opening is like being inside a Lee Bontecou relief. Despite its specifics, the monumental form is a poignant hollow shaped by labor and material. The politics of fighter-plane symbolism escaped Haraguchi back in the Vietnam War era and might likewise be irrelevant to American viewers today, since our multiple wars are even less immediate. We can see what Haraguchi saw: sculptural beauty in functional form.
Photo: Noriyuki Haraguchi: A-7 E Corsair II, 2011, canvas, aluminum, wood and mixed mediums, approx. 14 by 86 by 62 feet; at McCaffrey.