Tribute to Mono-Ha exhibition at Cardi Gallery in London

mono-ha cardi gallery


While I was walking around Green Park one afternoon, I stumbled upon a poster outside of the Cardi Gallery with this title: ‘Tribute to MONO-HA’ (13 March – 26th July 2019). I was not only surprised but extremely excited since it is rare to see collective work associated with this art movement outside of Japan.

Mono-ha, meaning ‘School of Things’ in Japanese, is a pioneering art movement emerged in Tokyo in 1968 that rejected traditional art practices in reaction to the rapid industrialisation of postwar Japan.

The movement, led by the artists Lee Ufan and Nobuo Sekine, was one of a number of groups engaged in ‘not making’ (others included the Neo-Dada and the short-lived Hi-Red Center). The young artists of Mono-ha never formalised into a group, and they never organised any group exhibition under Mono-ha, hence, this exhibition is a fantastic opportunity to see their works under one roof.


Kishio Suga's perimeters of space  Nobuo Sekine's Phase of Nothingless

Nobuo Sekine's Phase of Nothingless

Top left: Kishio Suga’s perimeters of space; Top right and bottom: Nobuo Sekine’s Phase of Nothingless


Curated by Davide Di Maggio, the exhibition features seminal works by Koji Enokura, Noriyuki Haraguchi, Susumu Koshimizu, Lee Ufan, Katsuhiko Narita, Nobuo Sekine, Kishio Suga, Jiro Takamatsu, Noboru Takayama, and Katsuro Yoshida.

Mono-ha emerged in response to a number of social, cultural and political precedents set in the 1960s. Most of these artists were studying at Tama Art University back then. Influenced by Zen Buddhism and Taoism, they rejected values of Western modern art, and explored the properties of natural and industrial materials, such as stone, steel plates, glass, light bulbs, cotton, sponge, paper, wood, wire, rope, leather, oil, and water, arranging them in mostly unaltered, ephemeral states. An important aspect of Zen Buddhism is ‘to see things as they are without distortions’, therefore, their aim was not to ‘create’ but ‘rearrange’ ‘things’, drawing attention to the interdependent relationships between these ‘things’ and the space surrounding them. They aimed to challenge pre-existing perceptions of such materials and relate to them on a new level.


Koji Enokura  mono-ha cardi gallery

mono-ha cardi gallery

Noriyuki Haraguchi

Top left: Koji Enokura’s Quality 1973; Bottom: Noriyuki Haraguchi’s Untitled, 1970/2015


Although Mono-ha created an original new vocabulary, its recognition as truly one of the driving forces of Japanese post-war art production begun only in the early ‘90s, first as an influence on Japanese artists and later in the West, where it was seen as a critically-engaged movement thanks to the contemporary relevance of its language and themes, so deeply linked to both nature and industry.

Since we are now living in an unsettling time with many political, social, religious and environmental issues, the works of Mono-ha are once again regarded as relevant to our current society.


Relatum III (a place within a certain situation), 1970

mono-ha cardi gallery

Lee Ufan’s Relatum III (a place within a certain situation), 1970


Two weeks before I visited the exhibition, I learned that Nobuo Sekine –a key member of the group– passed away in California at the age of 76. Some of his works like ‘Phase of Nothingness, and photos of his famous ‘Phase—Mother Earth’ (1968) can be seen at the exhibiton.


Susumu Koshimizu's From Surface to Surface  Katsuro Yoshida's cut-off

Susumu Koshimizu's From Surface to Surface

mono-ha cardi gallery

Top left & 2nd row: Susumu Koshimizu’s From Surface to Surface (1971) industrially manufactured wood (15 pieces); Top right: Katsuro Yoshida’s Cut-off; Bottom: Kishio Suga’s and Koji Enokura’s installation


mono-ha cardi gallery

mono-ha cardi gallery

Lee Ufan’s Relatum 1969-1995 Iron (5 parts)


 Lee Ufan's Relatum, 1969/1995-2015 Stone, cotton-wool, iron

 Lee Ufan's Relatum, 1969/1995-2015 Stone, cotton-wool, iron

mono-ha cardi gallery

Lee Ufan’s Relatum, 1969/1995-2015 Stone, cotton-wool, iron


Susumu Koshimizu's paper  "Phase—Mother Earth", 1968

Nobuo Sekine's 'Phase of Nothingness– Cloth and Stone' (1970)

Top left: Susumu Koshimizu’s Paper, 1969/1995; Top right: Nobuo Sekine’s ‘Phase—Mother Earth’, 1968 Bottom: Nobuo Sekine’s ‘Phase of Nothingness– Cloth and Stone’ (1970)


Noboru Takayama's Underground Zoo, 1968/2015 Wood

Noboru Takayama's 'Underground Zoo

mono-ha cardi gallery

Noboru Takayama’s ‘Underground Zoo’, 1968/2015 Wood


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