Pacific Crossing, 1998. Bronze, 8 x 16 x 153 in. Courtesy the artist and Haines Gallery.

Yoshitomo Saito: Reconcilable Differences

Metal pillows, cast canvases, origami without the folds: except for the tangible fact of their existence, Yoshitomo Saito’s sculptures would seem like far-fetched fabrications. If F. Scott Fitzgerald is right that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function,” then Saito has given viewers ample opportunity to prove their genius. The oxymoronic charm of his works sneaks up on unsuspecting viewers, proving that immoveable objects can also be walking contradictions. But Saito’s sculptures are no mere Mensa puzzles; they are contemplative conundrums, postmodern Zen koans that stretch one truth far enough to reach another.

For two decades, Saito has cast his bronze sculptures using the venerable lost-wax technique—but he describes his process in far less reverential terms. According to Saito, casting involves pantomime, poetry, and lies: “Bronze reminds me of Marcel Marceau: quiet, yet expressive. It can mimic another object so well that without saying a word, it speaks a certain truth in its task.” Just as his analogy is beginning to conjure thoughts of mimes posing as Rodin’s The Thinker, Saito waxes poetic: “But at the same time, an object is transformed when it’s cast in bronze; it becomes something else entirely, often more true to the original than the original. It’s the same with translations of haiku in English: the best ones capture something essential about the original Japanese version, even though it’s really a different poem.” Here, Saito punctures the balloon of his own lofty metaphor with a laugh. “Bronze is a liar, but at least it’s an honest one, and I prefer lies to hypocrisy.”