Kinji Akagawa, a sculptor whose work is in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, was just honored by the McKnight Foundation for his four decades as a Minnesota-based sculptor and public artist. As its 2007 McKnight Distinguished Artist, Akagawa will receive a $40,000 prize and recognition for his work as “a model Minnesota artist,” in the words of McKnight board chair Erika Binger.
His sculpture Garden Seating, Reading, Thinking, commisioned for the 1988 opening of the Walker’s sculpture garden, is a good example of his notion of public art’s focus on “pluralistic activities and the ecology of everyday experiences.” A bench made from locally sourced cedar, green basalt, and granite, the piece offers visitors a place to stop, think, and relax. “I made the piece, but not just as a bench for physical rest. Intellectually, you have to rest within that kind of context; emotionally, you have to rest looking at all the sculpture,” he says. “I used familiar, Midwestern materials: fieldstone and basalt from St. Croix. The bench provides psychological rest, intellectual rest, and physical rest.”
The piece, like much of his recent work, melds the elegance and simplicity of the traditional aesthetics from his Japanese background with the specifics of a particular public space: how it is used, where it is located, and how an artist can intervene there. “The world is dysfunctional,” Akagawa says, “but artists try to make it functional by interpreting it.”
According to the Star Tribune, Akagawa’s got plans for the prize funds:
The award includes $40,000 from the McKnight Foundation. Akagawa plans to use it for two long-dreamed of projects. He intends to travel to Scandinavia with his wife, artist Nancy Gipple, to study buildings by Finnish architect-designer Alvar Aalto, whose elegant wood-and-glass structures are reflected in Akagawa’s own work.
He also plans to build a little “study house” for his boxes, benches, furniture and other creations, “like a tea house, which is a Japanese tradition for moon viewing. It is a little bit of poetry in a kind of dwelling, and I’ve thought that if I have a little bit of money I might do it in my back yard.”
A longtime Walker member who has collaborated with the Walker’s visual arts and education departments (for the Walker’s 1986 Tokyo Form and Spirit show he transformed the Art Lab into a Japanese studio), Akagawa is also an educator: since 1973, he has been a professor of fine arts at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. He’s been in Minnesota since 1967 and lives in Afton.
From all of us at the Walker, congratulations, Kinji.