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May 15 2019

Obituary: Nobuo Sekine (1942–2019)

by Xuan Wei Yap

Mono-ha artist NOBUO SEKINE passed away on May 13, aged 76. Photo by Gaea Woods.

On May 13, Japanese artist Nobuo Sekine, a seminal figure in the Mono-ha movement, passed away in Los Angeles at the age of 76.

Born in 1942 in Saitama, Sekine moved to Tokyo in 1962 to complete a bachelor of fine art in oil painting at Tama Art University. There, he studied under prominent artists like abstract sculptor Yoshishige Saito and surrealist and minimalist Jiro Takamatsu.

Sekine was particularly fascinated by the concept of “phase” in topology, a mathematical discipline concerned with properties of abstract space. His theoretical explorations informed his iconic 1968 work, Phase – Mother Earth, exhibited at the 1st Contemporary Sculpture Exhibition at Kobe’s Suma Rikyū Park. The piece was created with the assistance of fellow Mono-ha members Susumu Koshimizu and Katsuro Yoshida, and consisted of a hole dug in the ground measuring 2.7 meters deep and 2.2 meters in diameter, accompanied by a cylinder made of the excavated earth and compacted into the same dimensions.

In July 1970, Sekine was chosen to represent Japan at the 35th Venice Biennale, where his work Phase of Nothingness—a sculpture consisting of a tall square column of mirrored stainless steel with a large marble stone placed on top—received widespread acclaim. This led to solo exhibitions in Tokyo, Copenhagen and Milan and tours of his works at major institutions, from the Künsthalle Düsseldorf to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk. Sekine has been featured in landmark surveys of Mono-ha, including “Requiem for the Sun: The Art of Mono-ha” (2012) at Blum & Poe, Los Angeles, and “Reconsidering Mono-ha” (2005) at the National Museum of Art, Osaka.

Sekine’s final exhibition before his death was “Tribute to Mono-ha” at London’s Cardi Gallery, which opened on March 13 and runs to July 26. 

Xuan Wei Yap is an editorial intern of ArtAsiaPacific.

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