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10 July 2013

John Cage: Ryoanji (Catalog Raisonné, Volume I)

John Cage: Ryoanji
Catalogue Raisonné of the Visual Artworks Vol. I
Edited by Corinna Thierolf
240 pages, 143 tritone plates
Schirmer Mosel/Verlag
ISBN 978-308296-0625-7
€ 98-, US$ 125-

Between 1983 and 1992, John Cage created some 170 pencil drawings, an intensive exploration of Japan's most famous Zen garden of the Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto.  Working on handmade Indian rag paper at a small light table built into his office desk, the Ryoanji drawings can be seen as the opus magnum of Cage's visual work, illustrating aesthetic and conceptual reflections relevant to his entire oeuvre.

In cooperation with Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich, which owns an extensive selection of Ryoanji drawings, and the John Cage Trust, Schirmer/Mosel presents John Cage: Ryoanji, which for the first time presents the complete series of drawings, "Where R = Ryoanji."

Cage first visited the Ryoanji Temple and its early 16th-century rock garden in 1962, during a concert tour of Japan (Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Sapporo) with David Tudor, Toshi Ichiyanagi, and Yoko Ono.  Measuring 30 x 10 meters, the garden consists of carefully raked white pebbles with 15 rocks arranged seemingly at random.  Over a period of ten years, the last decade of his life, Cage devoted himself to drawings addressing the aesthetic order of the complex that is revered in Japan as a perfect depiction of nature.  As with all of his late artistic endeavors, Cage developed chance techniques for each compositional action in the making of these works -- for example, in choosing and positioning the stones that would be circled by the artist's pencil on the paper on in choosing which graphite density to use.

Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki & John Cage
©Yasuhiro Yoshioka
For this first volume of the catalogue raisonné of Cage's visual art, the book's editor, Corinna Thierolf, chief curator at Pinakothek der Moderne, has systematically compiled little known sources on the evolution and on the art-historical context of the Ryoanji drawings.

This book shows, in extraordinarily delicate reproductions, the immense breadth of the Ryoanji drawings, their notations ranging from isolated circular lines to seemingly chaotic and overlapping networks of strokes.  Provided with the proper sequence of all works in the series, the reader can for the first time fully experience the suspense and tension Cage so skillfully created between repetition and uniqueness, order and disorder, agitation and tranquility.  One of Cage's artistic goals was to obtain maximum insight with minimum means -- an achievement impressively attested to in this beautiful edition.

Laura Kuhn