Special Exhibition “The Quarries of Imagination – Stones between Art and Artifact”


As a new experiment in the Intermediatheque’s ongoing venture into Art & Science, this special exhibition co-curated with French artist Hugues Reip delves into the world of stones, through a unique installation combining contemporary artworks with scientific specimens. In order to elucidate contemporary artists’ renewed interest in stones as a new perspective on the natural world and on science, we are gathering a hundred items comprising scientific specimens from various disciplines and contemporary artworks rarely shown in Japan, belonging to collections in Japan and abroad. As various stones, belonging to such different realms and temporalities as nature, science and art, intermingle in the exhibition space, you are invited to consider how stones as natural objects are given form and function, gradually gaining the status of an artifact to which historical significance and social value are attributed.

[Organizer] The University Museum, the University of Tokyo (UMUT)
[Cooperation] agnès b. endowment fund + Shigeru Yokota Gallery
[Patronage] Van Cleef & Arpels + Embassy of France in Japan / Institut français


Exhibition Concept

Stones are among the natural substances which have very little to do with human consciousness. In the traditional classification of the natural world dating back to Aristotle, the mineral world was a major constituent along with the animal and vegetal realms; however, it was also the only one to be dissociated from the organic environment surrounding humans. Inorganic minerals produced in the course of a geological temporality beyond the scope of human imagination offered a unique material, both complex in structure and resistant, that could defy the passing of time. It is human activity that produced the Venus de Milo from a formless block of marble, transforming it into an artifact symbolizing human cultural heritage. However, as André Breton had predicted in his famous essay Language of Stones, the cultural status of stones changed drastically in the mid 20th century: from a simple material, they became the subject of artworks. The complex structure and the unique shape of stones thus guided the formal aesthetic of sculptors and artists. Furthermore, in contemporary art, stones are used in artworks as a token of nature, either unprocessed (as a readymade) or reshaped (as an artifact), giving birth to a unique, abstract form of expression. To each of these contemporary artworks exploring the imaginary realm of stones, the present exhibition associates scientific specimens from the University collections, produced as an index of the mineral world. Such a fusion of art and science highlights how important the context is important in establishing a stone’s function, form and significance, as a similar item will have a different meaning and a different value depending on its context. The public, while enjoying the beauty of specimens and the intellectual stimulation of demanding artworks, will thus have a unique opportunity to reconsider the process that turns natural objects into artworks.

Exhibited Artists

Apollo Project [NASA] / Abdelkader BENCHAMMA (1975-) /
Michel BLAZY (1966-) / Brassaï (1899-1984) /
Frédéric BRULY BOUABRÉ (1923-2014) /
Melanie COUNSELL (1964-) /
François CURLET (1967-) /
Daniel DEWAR (1976-) & Grégory GICQUEL (1975-) /
Mimosa ECHARD (1986-) / Roland FLEXNER (1944-) /
Michel FRANÇOIS (1956-) / Piero GILARDI (1942-) /
Mona HATOUM (1952-) / IZUMI Masatoshi (1938-) /
Valérie JOUVE (1964-) / Jacques JULIEN (1967-) /
André KERTÉSZ (1894-1985) / Helen LEVITT (1913-2009) /
Robert MALAVAL (1937-1980) / Didier MARCEL (1961-) /
Ryan McGINLEY (1977-) / Mathieu MERCIER (1970-) /
Marcel MIRACLE (1957-) / Charlotte MOTH (1978-) /
Jean-Luc MOULÈNE (1955-) / Gabriel OROZCO (1962-) /
Sigmar POLKE (1941-2010) / Hugues REIP (1964-) /
Évariste RICHER (1969-) / Jean-Michel SANEJOUAND (1934-) /
Franck SCURTI (1965-) / Sigurdur Arni SIGURDSSON (1963-) /
Fabio VISCOGLIOSI (1965-)

Exhibited Collections

The University Museum, the University of Tokyo [Mineralogy / Paleoanthropology / Archaeology]
agnès b. collection (contemporary art)
various private collections (contemporary art)

Back to index