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October 12, 2001

UW-RF Hosts Afton's Akagawa at Outdoor Art Exhibit

The world is dysfunctional, but artists can make it functional by interpreting it for us. These are the words of prominent sculptor Kinji Akagawa of Afton, whose philosophy is that love and care are the glue that bring people together, and that artists can unite us through the love and care that is manifested in their work.

Akagawa, who creates art for public spaces, was the invited guest at the 10th Annual Outdoor Art Installation sponsored by the UW-River Falls art department the week of Oct. 8-12. During the first two days of the event students created temporary outdoor works designed to highlight specific sites on campus. The public was invited to view the installations during the last three days.

Akgawa was on campus Oct. 10, to conduct a walking tour of the outdoor installations students had created. His visit included a lecture and public slide show, in which he defined public art and discussed its role in the community.

His life's work has been to study relationships and to understand and express those concepts through his art. The art he creates for public places is designed to bring people together for a common experience.

"I use indigenous local materials, and incorporate nature whenever I can," said Akagawa. "I also use images from various cultures so everyone is represented, so we can listen to each other and come to a consensus about the kind of world we want to live in. This will be good for all of us, and good for the next generation."

Public art is a product of the modern world, he said. It has evolved through the changes that have come to society since the middle of the 20th Century; changes such as the civil rights movement and feminism.

"Before we talk about art, though, we have to talk about esthetic experiences," said Akagawa, referring to the traditional way that he and many other artists developed.

He said he was trained to become a good craftsperson, to draw and paint just like the great European artists whose work was confined to galleries and museums. This is a ŒEurocentric¹ art standard based on European ideals. Following that training, he studied traditional Japanese art, such as silkscreen.

"Then I began to understand other standards, such as the principles of democracy," he said. "I came to America to search for my own identity within a broader context than Japan. At art school I met students from all over the world‹Germany, Sweden, Italy and China‹and I studied the American style of doing art."

Akagawa said pop artists were the first generation of American artists who understood American democracy. They made everyday objects into art to review our lifestyles, and sabotaged the formal notion of galleries and museums. Their controversial work was met with disapproval. "The Eurocentric response to pop art was, Œthat¹s not art!¹ " he said.

The concept of public art grew out of pop art. "Public art goes beyond closed doors," he said. "Its focus is democracy and everyday experiences. It provides awareness to a richer world."

Said UW-RF art Associate Professor Art Randy Johnston, "The outdoor project and Kinji¹s campus lecture and critiques created an important dialog with students about art in the context of the 21st century and its importance as a fundamental human expression."

Akagawa¹s work enhances a number of public places in Minnesota and Wisconsin, including Macalaster College in St. Paul; St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minn.; Cambridge Community College in Cambridge, Minn.; the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota; the Medical Health Science Center at UW-LaCrosse; the Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson; Minnesota state parks; churches; and the private collections of several individuals.

Akagawa is a professor of fine arts at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. He has exhibited his work at many notable galleries, including the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design in Milwaukee, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and The Minneapolis Institute of Art in Minneapolis.

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