I can has flowerz?
I can has flowerz?
Okurimono, clay and epoxy, 2007

Unstuck In Time and @Space With Nobuhito Nishigawara

Magical History Tour
Unstuck in time and @Space with Nobuhito Nishigawara

At first glance, Nobuhito Nishigawara's sculptures could make you think there was some sort of shipping error, and a bunch of ancient artifacts that were supposed to be delivered to the Bowers Museum somehow ended up down the street at the @Space Gallery. Director Julie Lee typically showcases all kinds of modern, edgy art, but these pieces look more like the fragile remnants unearthed at an archeological dig. Surely, these chubby, elegantly simple, charcoal-gray clay figures have come to us from another time and place—stolen from somebody's cobwebby tomb, dusted off and put on display in 2008 America, within walking distance of an El Pollo Loco.

These pieces could sneak their way into almost any big museum exhibit of artifacts from almost any ancient culture, and they would likely blend in with the crowd. But the more you look at them, the more vexingly enigmatic they become. They seem to somehow come from every time and every place, and no time and no place.

The Buddha in the gallery window is reassuringly familiar, and it might lead you to believe this is art from the East. But much of Nishigawara's work has a vaguely pre-Columbian look to it, with babyish, boneless limbs and those round, passive little faces. And the Buddha is parked next to one of Nishigawara's little donkeys, which look sort of like objects that predate Christ while also sort of resembling those metal horsies on springs that kids bounce on at the park. They have the weight of history about them—yet at the same time they're Disney-cute.

The exhibit is called "Dual Perspective," but "dual" is an absurd understatement. This show seems to be coming at you from many angles at once, wantonly violating all known rules of time, space and historical accuracy. In one piece, Nishigawara can call to mind four or five cultures, from the dead empires of olden times to our own, dying empire of today. Just as you enter, you're confronted by Princess, a figure who looks kind of Japanese—a little bit samurai, a little bit anime android. But her clothing also simultaneously suggests a Spanish conquistador, an Elizabethan nobleman and a little girl in a Shirley Temple dress. And is she giving us the karana mudra gesture, or is she flashing a gang sign?

Perhaps it's not so surprising that Nishigawara's work seems like a mash-up of so many peoples, places and things. Before he arrived at his current gig as an assistant professor of art at Cal State Fullerton, Nishigawara bounced all over the globe, from his birthplace in Nagoya, Japan, to his education in Kansas City, Missouri, and Tempe, Arizona. Now he picks and chooses those bits of history that catch his interest, squishing them all together into something strange, beautiful and new.

But Nishigawara is a restless talent, and even as he perfects his anachronistic little figures, he has interesting sidelines not on display here: abstract sculptures made up of lots of little circles (imagine macaroni art made by somebody with a fancy arts degree) and "reconstructed figures" that look like classical Greek representations of hideously lovely circus freaks with asses where their boobs should be and legs growing out of their backs. Other artists spend their lives struggling to come up with one style that works, but Nishigawara just can't seem to stop making all kinds of cool, innovative stuff. Check out his website (www.nobuhitonishigawara.com) if you're interested in having your mind blown clean out the back of your head.

Many centuries hence, when we are long gone and the roaches have evolved into upright, man-sized creatures with little spectacles balanced on their mandibles, they will pick through our rubble trying to understand who we were and why we all died out. They will dig our shopping malls out from beneath tons of ash and chitter excitedly about our food courts. They will use their great machines to sift through the wreckage of our museums, and they will write thick, insectoid books about us.

Here's hoping that one of them finds a stash of Nishigawara's work, and it confuses the hell out of them all.

"Nobuhito Nishigawara: Dual Perspective" at @Space Gallery, 2202 N. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 835-3730; www.atspacegallery.com. Open Wed.-Sun., 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; until 8 p.m. on select evenings. Through June 22.


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