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Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2010

Kusumoto’s ‘Unfolding Stories’ Astound at RAM

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Wondrous miniature worlds inside handmade metal boxes fill the glass cases in the lobby gallery at the Racine Art Museum (RAM). The current exhibition, titled “Mariko Kusumoto: Unfolding Stories,” highlights Mariko Kusumoto, a Japanese-born artist who uses her art to mingle adulthood and childhood, as well as Eastern and Western cultures. She employs sculpture, metalsmith and printmaking techniques while meshing traditional icons with contemporary ones—all with a master’s touch.

Kusumoto’s metal boxes and their imaginative contents create elegant, intricate habitats from brass, copper, gold leaf, nickel silver, sterling silver and a variety of other materials and found objects.

In a diminutive sculpture of a sushi restaurant, titled Kaiten Zushi, the bottom level of the box features a round, rotating tray from which to receive the sushi and the upper level stores Japanese food in bento boxes on a shelf.

The metal box stands alone as a fascinating artwork—one that transforms into a treasure box when unlatched. Every surface and object etched with design and texture contributes an integral part to the whole concept. For example, a hard-boiled egg set on a triangular tray cracks open to reveal several smaller eggs that also split, each containing another surprise.

Another piece, Bloomingdale’s,revisits the famous department store based on illustrations found in an 1886 catalog. The store’s seven floors open like a pop-up book from the box, with removable miniature merchandise hanging on each page. A tiny chest of drawers shaped like a dress emerges on wheels. Each drawer in the chest houses a detailed pin that recalls the fashionable retailer—jewelry that can be worn and then returned to this stylish, stunning container.

Every item in the exhibit beckons to be touched and experienced outside the cases, as Kusumoto intended. She invites viewers to participate in the wonder that each sculpture holds in these playable, wearable works of art. Alternately, the closed boxes provide portable art—works that silently encourage viewers to uncover their mysterious trinkets and jewels, similar to unwrapping expensive gifts with anticipation and excitement.

Each box requires approximately a year to construct, and the RAM showcases a remarkable collection. Discover Kusumoto’s astonishing artistic vision as a seasonal gift before the exhibition closes Jan. 23.