A six-page spread in the March issue Art & Antiques Magazine profiles the life and work Kikuo Saito. Of KinoSaito, John Dorfman writes, “The interdisciplinary nature of KinoSaito will be a fitting memorial to the eclectic, boundary-negating multimedia work of this unique artist.” See excerpt below, and pick up the print issue or visit the site for more illuminating words on Kikuo and the institution we are building in his name.
VERPLANCK – The former St. Patrick's School property is under town officials' review to offer art workshops, house studio space/residences for two artists and contain a gallery of works by an acclaimed New York City painter.
The one-acre property, which includes the faded-brick former school, is between 7th and 8th streets in this northern Westchester County hamlet and was bought for $255,000 in 2014 by Mikiko Ino, who has brought forth the arts proposal.
Her late husband Kikuo Saito's works have been part of permanent collections at New York City's Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and Whitney Museum of American Art.
"It’s a nice, beautiful space,” said Ino, who would live in a next-door house that was the rectory.
Depending on the town review process, the project could open next spring or summer. The plans for the 115 7th St. property, on a largely residential road, need Cortlandt Planning Board approval and will require a public hearing. The board meets again on Sept. 5.
Ino’s husband created art for some 50 years, but also taught in the city. Ino said offering art workshops in the former school building is important and honors his legacy. He died in 2016 at age 76.
The plan is to use the property's three existing buildings. The main one is the two-story former school, which, on the first floor, would include a permanent gallery for Saito's art, a small office, classroom space for people of varying ages to learn to do art, and a gallery with changing exhibits, said project engineer Jim Annicchiarico, of Cronin Engineering.
The second floor would have the two artists' spaces/residences, plus a large gallery space for events. An elevator would be installed, a code requirement given the artists-in-residence.
A smaller building would be largely for storage and a studio space.
The other building is the rectory that would be the house and is essentially set to be lived in.
St. Patrick's School was 100 years old when the pre-kindergarten-8th grade school closed in 1991 — a cost reduction at the time for the Archdiocese of New York. Student enrollment, at nearly 120 students in the early 1970s, was about 86 in its final year.
For the property's new proposed use, parking is still being determined. Annicchiarico told the Planning Board this month the property's typical use would be 10 spaces or perhaps 15, not the more than 30 that town code would normally call for.
"The reality of the daily use of the site is much less than that," he said.
Twice a year, there could be larger gallery events, he said, on Fridays or Saturdays, and added that he and others are working to get a solid number of what could be expected for those.
A number of those who come may be taking the train from New York City, so the owner is interested in seeing if they could be bused to the site to reduce need for parking, Annicchiarico said.
Parking possibilities include seeking town approval for some spaces along a guard-railed portion of 8th street and/or getting permission for some parking on Broadway, he said.
The property will also be spruced up, with plans to rid it of invasive plants that have grown wild on chain-link fencing. That fencing would be replaced with what Annicchiarico said would be nicer wrought-iron fence. New native plantings would go in to screen the property.
And the plan is to create a sculpture garden on the property.
Putting to different use a property that had a religious use or ties has been something of a trend in Westchester, albeit the new purposes have differed widely from what's proposed in Verplanck.
In Bedford Hills, the former Antioch Baptist Church is being converted into affordable housing. In White Plains, there's a mixed-use housing proposal for the former property sold by the Sisters of Divine Compassion, which closed Our Lady of Good Counsel High School there while an elementary school moved to Valhalla.
Kikuo Saito, known both as an abstract painter with a remarkable sense of color and as the creator of evocative, wordless theater/dance pieces, died on February 15, 2016. He is survived by his wife Mikiko Ino. Born in Tokyo in 1939, Saito came to New York in 1966. He had already begun to design stage settings for modern dance in Japan, and would continue to do so in the US. When he first arrived, however, he went to work as a studio assistant for such eminent artists as Larry Poons, Kenneth Noland, and Helen Frankenthaler.. Saito continued to design for the theater and dance until 1979, working internationally with some of the most innovative directors and choreographers of the period. Drawing on Japanese theatrical traditions of Kabuki and Noh plays, Saito pioneered the use of water and other untraditional materials on stage. In addition to productions for the Festival of Two Worlds, Spoleto, Italy, he created settings for numerous plays at La Mama, New York; collaborated with Robert Wilson on projects in Shiraz, Iran, and in Paris; and created the set for Peter Brook’s “Conference of the Birds,” in Paris. Enthusiastic supporters of this gifted young Japanese man included choreographer Jerome Robbins and the founder of La Mama, Ellen Stewart – who described herself as “Kikuo Saito’s mother in America.”
Despite his growing reputation for his stage work, Saito became dissatisfied with the complexity and the collaborative nature of designing for the theater. Even before he completely abandoned theater projects, he increasingly concentrated on painting, developing a personal version of Color Field abstraction that depended as much on delicately inflected lines and edges as it did on expanses of seductive, saturated hues. Saito’s mature work is characterized by its inventive, often surprising use of color, ranging from frankly gorgeous, richly varied intensities to subdued near-monochromes–as well as by its eloquent drawing. His paintings seem to negotiate a tense coexistence between Marshall McLuhan-esque “cool” and passionate individuality – perhaps a metaphor for Saito’s dual existence, over the years, in the collaborative world of the theater and the private world of the studio. He began to exhibit his paintings in 1976 and since then, has participated in numerous solo and group shows in the U.S., Europe, and Japan. He is represented in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, and numerous private and corporate collections.
In 1996, Saito returned, briefly, to the theater, when he was artist-in-residence at Duke University. Collaborating with his wife, the dancer and choreographer, Eva Maier (who died in 1997), he created the narrative concept, costumes, and sets for “Toy Garden,” a wordless, haunting performance involving students from Duke’s dance, drama, and art departments. (“Toy Garden” was later performed at La Mama.) The piece, loosely inspired by John Ruskin’s writings on Venice, was, more specifically, Saito said, about what he imagined was happening in the missing half of Vittore Carpaccio’s celebrated “Two Venetian Women on a Terrace,” a work whose amputated left side has long been lost. The long snout of an ambiguous dog cropped by the painting’s edge generated a delightful iguana costume – the dancer stretched out on a low, wheeled platform – while Carpaccio’s women’s ample costumes and the birds perched on the railing became a generous cage-like wire skirt, filled with doves. A similar stint at New York’s La Guardia High School of Music, Art, and Performing Arts, in 2001, produced “Ash Garden,” a meditation on Pompeii and its fate.
These theater works resonated in Saito’s paintings. As his work matured, gesture, in many forms, became more and more dominant, without overshadowing his orchestrations of ravishing hues. After working on “Toy Garden,” these gestures became increasingly calligraphic. The works that followed included everything from energetic sweeps of a loaded brush and delicate lines to declarative stenciled Roman capitals, and a lot in between, some of it almost or completely illegible. Many of these mysterious scrawls proved to be shorthand, recontextualized versions of Saito’s conceptual drawings for costumes and characters, while the elegant Roman capitals, arranged at intervals on a grid, had their origins in the backdrop of “Toy Garden.” In the same way, the subdued palette of “Ash Garden” had cognates in the paintings that followed. The largely unreadable calligraphic elements of all of Saito’s work of his last two decades, however, can be seen as expressive of more deeply embedded experience. It’s perhaps not an overstatement to say that when we, as viewers, attempt to come to terms with Saito’s invented calligraphy, now plainly visible, now veiled by layers of paint, we recapitulate the artist’s youthful experience of arriving in New York and being confronted by a new language and a new alphabet. The sensuality of Saito’s color and the physicality of his paint handling could be equivalents for his pleasure in overcoming those challenges.
In addition to being artist-in-residence at Duke University and La Guardia High School, Saito was also a visiting professor at Musashino Art University, in Tokyo, and taught, until weeks before his death, at the Art Students League. He was an inspiring teacher whose students remained deeply attached to him, even as they established themselves in careers such as architecture. They form an extended family of adult surrogate children, further expanding the legacy of this notably modest, dazzlingly gifted man, whose multivalent abilities left their mark in many different disciplines. Kikuo Saito will be much missed.
In “The Final Years,” See the Last Works of a Celebrated Japanese Painter and Set Designer
“It’s hard to resist seeing an artist’s final works as a summing up,” writes the critic and curator Karen Wilkin, “if not of everything that came before them, then, at least, of his preoccupations over his last few years.” Wilkin’s thoughtful essay accompanies “The Final Years,” a new exhibit of paintings by Kikuo Saito (1939–2016), the Japanese-born painter, set designer, and theater director who died this past February.
The exhibition, now on view at Leslie Feely Fine Art in New York, features paintings completed in 2015 and 2014, not long before Saito’s death following a long, fruitful career. These recent paintings “seem new in many ways, more intense, perhaps more fluid,” Wilkin says, though they also feel like “triumphant summations of decades of exploration.”
Indeed, the abstract paintings are exciting and alive, rich with saturated colors. Their forms slash across the canvas, with paint dripping languorously off the surface and bleeding off its edges. In some, thick brushstrokes are scrawled across the canvas, suggesting familiar organic forms or indecipherable letters.
The works represent the final stage in an impressive creative trajectory. Born in Tokyo, Saito moved to New York in 1966. Before leaving Japan, he designed stage sets for modern-dance performances, a field he continued to pursue in the U.S. and, later, in Italy and France. Drawing on Kabuki tradition, his innovative sets incorporated water and other unconventional material.
At the same time, Saito was kicking off a career as a painter. In the 1970s and ’80s, he served as studio assistant for a handful of legendary painters, including Larry Poons and Helen Frankenthaler. Eventually, Saito abandoned his theater work to focus on developing his particular style of Color Field abstraction, often featuring calligraphic characters drawn from an alphabet of his own creation.
That love of written language and natural flair for the theater—the sensuality and shape of a costume, the whirling colors of dancers in motion—come across in his paintings. It was also reflected in his technique of painting on the floor, circling over the canvas with his own body. These last works are rhythmic and vibrant, energetic, even musical—ultimate expressions of a colorful life and career that spanned genres and hemispheres.
—Bridget Gleeson, Artsy
“Kikuo Saito: The Final Years” is on view at Leslie Feely Fine Art, New York, Sept. 15–Oct. 13, 2016.