Sachiko Akiyama: Things Unseen

Sachiko Akiyama, Encounter

, 2010
polychromed wood
14.5" x 22" x 2"
Courtesy of the Artist and
Nielsen Gallery, Boston, MA

November 14, 2010 - February 6, 2011

Curated by Nina Nielsen and John Baker

Opening Reception Saturday, November 13, 6-8pm
Gallery Talk Sunday, December 12, 3pm

About the Exhibit

Sachiko Akiyama’s polychrome woodcarvings offer an opportunity for us to contemplate who we are.  Presenting the viewer with images that come from dreams, memories, and Japanese fairytales known to her in childhood, Akiyama does not make reference to the wakeful or so-called literal world.  Instead, she attempts “to come closer to something deeper and more intangible, something that is lasting in its truthfulness.”

Akiyama carves her beautifully introspective figures out of basswood—long considered one of the best carving woods because of its ability to take cuts both across and against the grain—and then paints them with oil pigments. Their stability and symmetry recall ancient carving, but Akiyama’s re-interpretations of Japanese fairytales are deeply psychological and impart a contemporary feel. 

Casting herself as a young heroine able to communicate with animals, the sculptor presents many variations of human self.  In Dream of Birds (2003), a woman crouches low on her haunches, unaware of our presence, making us feel awkward and ill at ease.  Across the room, another woman lays prostrate, holding a small bird in her hand in a determined effort to protect the mysterious clues she has found to life’s meaning.  Standing side by side in Shared Departures (2008), a middle-aged couple suggests an inward symmetry of water and air—the man sternly offering up a boat paddle, and his wife holding out a pair of delicate birds.  

Since prehistoric times humans have carved and painted in order to acknowledge a desire for spiritual wholeness.  Sachiko Akiyama’s polychrome wood sculptures and reliefs not only remind us of our elemental dependence upon the natural world, but also assert a belief that we are not fully ourselves until, like our ancestors, we accept a poetic unknown that defies literal description.

About the Artist

Born in 1973, artist Sachiko Akiyama received her BA from Amherst College in 1995; a Post-baccalaureate certificate in Studio Art from Brandeis University in 2000; and her MFA in sculpture from Boston University in 2002.  In 2005, she attended the Skowhegan School of Sculpture and Painting in Skowhegan, ME.

Prior to her solo exhibition at the Danforth Museum of Art, Akiyama’s work has been featured in group exhibitions at other museums, including the DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, MA; the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, WI; and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA.  Her work has appeared in numerous galleries, including solo exhibitions at Nielsen Gallery where she is represented, and group shows at Alpha Gallery in Boston, MA; Boston Sculptors Gallery in Boston, MA; the Sherman Gallery at Boston University; Smack Mellon in Brooklyn, NY and other venues. Awards include a Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation grant (2004); an Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant (2005); a Massachusetts Cultural Council grant in (2005); an Artist’s Resource Trust grant from the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation (2006); a Joan Mitchell Grant (2006) and the Blanche Colman Award from the Mellon Foundation (2008).

Akiyama lives and works in the Boston area, and currently teaches at Boston University where she is Assistant Professor of Art. For more info about the artist and her work, see www.sachikoakiyama.com.

About the Curators

Curators John Baker and Nina Nielsen are former owners and directors of Nielsen Gallery, one of Boston’s most prestigious commercial galleries founded in 1963.  Recognized as a premier showcase for contemporary artists whose personal visions resist easy categorization, Nielsen Gallery was located in the historic Back Bay district of Boston at 179 Newbury Street at the time until its closing in June, 2009.  Over the course of their 46 year career, Baker and Nielsen were recognized for outstanding curatorial abilities, most notably by the International Association of Art Critics (AICA).

In 2009, the AICA awarded their show Jay DeFeo: Applaud the Black Fact second place for "Best Show in a Commercial Gallery, Nationally." In 2005, the AICA awarded The Privilege of Solitude: Alfred Jensen and Forrest Bess first place for "Best Show in a Commercial Gallery, Nationally." Other major exhibitions at Nielsen Gallery  included "Jackson Pollock: Forty Four Psychoanalytic Drawings, 1939-41; and The Self-Reliant Spirit, featuring a comparison of four contemporary artists with Albert Pinkam Ryder, Ralph Albert Blakelock, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley.  Nielsen Gallery was also recognized for notable survey exhibitions of work by such artists Albert York, Martin Ramirez, Gregory Gillespie and numerous others.

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