Yohei Nishimura: ‘Spent Heat’


Book burning doesn’t usually earn you high marks in artistic circles, but under the guidance of Yohei Nishimura, the act produces startling beauty. Let’s be clear, though: Nishimura, a longtime ceramicist, isn’t taking a match to paper—he’s placing books and magazines in kilns at temperatures as high as 1,000 degrees, for up to 10 hours.

What happens is truly astonishing: The paper congeals, shedding most of its ink, and the works shrink into pale, delicate, deformed versions of their former selves. In various shades of white and beige, with the pages still identifiable as layers and the darker covers curled up on top like decoration, these tiny sculptures, at first glance, resemble desserts of phyllo pastry or carefully prepared sushi.

But after you learn the titles of the American publications that Nishimura fired for this exhibit, you start to see how the new shapes suggest, weirdly, some aspect of the original texts: Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady, for example, became a creamy white purse with a snap-like brown streak (the cover’s remains), and the 1971 guide Playboy–Sex American Style was reduced to what resembles a gray figure, arching up to display itself. An issue of Time magazine is the most colorless piece here, and Esquire, ironically, melted into what resembles taffeta. You can see these works as somber takes on that same nightmare of nuclear holocaust, but Nishimura’s wholly original minimalism is less a consideration of death and fire than a study of transcendence.

Tuesdays-Fridays, 10 a.m.; Saturdays, 11 a.m. Starts: March 25. Continues through April 25, 2009