Roland Flexner
Untitled, 2001
ink on paper
12.75 x 11.5 inches

Roland Flexner and Japanese Bronzes of the Edo Period

September 12 – October 11, 2015

Sargent’s Daughters is pleased to present an exhibition of Roland Flexner’s ink drawings alongside Japanese bronzes of the Edo Period. The exhibition will be comprised of never-before exhibited bubble drawings from 2001, shown with five futabana bronzes from the 18th and 19th Century that are presented together for the first time.  Flexner hasnot exhibited in New York since 2012. The exhibition will open on September 12, 2015 and be on view until October 11th.      


Flexner’s work uses chance and gravity to create intimate ink drawings that call to mind biology, geology, and astrology. Each drawing is created by blowing a mixture of ink and soapy water through a straw or hollowed-out brush and observing the bubble until an engaging pattern emerges and then allowing it to burst on a sheet of paper. The resulting image is created entirely by circumstance and careful manipulation, the intention of the artist, and the hazard of the swirling ink. 


Though the method and materials remain the same, the bubble drawings respond to the breath and the gestures that inform them; they are infinitely varied, each one the result of a single event. They look like small worlds, different from one another: Planets and distant skies, a radiant or black sun, concentric circles, bubble-bursting cascades, dividing cells, anamorphic images, geological specimens. The eye, always searching for meaning, grasps at the unfolding associations on a micro and macro level.


The five bronzes in the exhibition are each futabana (two-flower) vases, from the late Edo period (circa 18th/19th century). This type of vase originated as a part of Buddhist ceremonial ritual that included flower arranging on an altar, usually in front of a scroll. Flower arrangement was an important element of Buddhist piety, which slowly transformed into a social and aesthetic activity, and the vessels, which began as replicas of Chinese bronzes, started to assume more elaborate and inventive designs. The futabana is a distinctly Japanese development. Natural forms, such as waves and lotus flowers, take on symbolic meaning in their abstract representations. In addition, bronze itself signifies a connection to higher realms: the 8th Century great Buddha of Nara for example is entirely made of bronze, The importance of bronzes in the Japanese cultural heritage was recognized early on by renowned Parisian dealer Siegfried "Samuel" Bing, whose 1876 sale of Japanese bronzes to the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert) brought attention to the artistic heritage of Japan and helped to spark what would become the Art Nouveau style in Europe.


This relationship to ritual, material and symbol connects the intimate works on paper by Flexner to the vases of two centuries before— though most of the bronzes are anonymous, they are handcrafted and rely on a similar instinct of the viewer to find meaning within the rendering.The physical elegance of the bronzes offers a sculptural counterpoint to Flexner’s ink drawings, which gracefully float between the solid and fluid and, like the vases, allow the materials to have as great a weight as the subject.  An economy of execution belies the vastness of intention: just as the vases communicate a world beyond this world, grander even than the nature from which they draw, Flexner’s drawings speak to the ephemeral essence of creation and existence.


Roland Flexner was born in Nice, France in 1944. He has been living and working in New York since 1981.  His work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum; The Whitney Museum of American Art; The Albright-Knox Museum; The Fogg Museum; Indianapolis Museum of Art; National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; Musee National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris; Fond National d’Art Contemporain, Paris; Francois Pinault Foundation, Venice; among others. Recent Solo exhibitions include: Massimo De Carlo Gallery, London, “At the end of the day,” 2015; D’Amelio Gallery, New York, 2012, Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris, 2011; Massimo De Carlo Gallery, Milan. 2010.  Roland Flexner is included in the current Metropolitan Museum of Art’s podcast series, “The Artists Project.”

The bronzes in this exhibition are generously loaned by a Private Collection in New York City.  Works of similar quality and prestige can be found in the collection of The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK.

The pairing of Roland Flexner's work with the bronzes was curated by Sargent's Daughters.