Kengiro Azuma

Kengiro Azuma was born the second son of seven brothers on March 12th 1926 in the small town of Yamagata in northern Japan. His father and his grandfather were artisans who worked in bronze. 

In 1943 he joined the navy flying corps in the Maizuru division but in 1946, after the United States destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atom bombs forcing the Japanese to surrender, he returned to his hometown and his studies at the lyceum. The Emperor was no longer a divinity, Japan was going through a deep economic crisis during which the system of values definitively collapsed. Azuma found no comfort in religion or in the town where he grew up, and thus chose art to give him a new sense to life. He wrote: “I thought that I could find myself in art, serenity and a reason to live, joining the search for new with past; the history of my family without cutting ties or roots. Aesthetic research and beauty, the search for perfection could have substituted the ancient certainties that fell in the face of reality, fomenting the reason for the great question: what does it mean to live?” 

In 1949 Azuma enrolled at the National Art and Music University Gedai in Tokyo from where he graduated in 1953, and afterwards studied for two year in post-graduate courses. He left for Milan in 1956 and enrolled at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts motivated by the conviction that that was the right path to take in order to become an artist, the economic difficulties and the numerous questions about his origins, the meaning of life and himself notwithstanding. In 1958 he participated in the Terza mostra nazionale d'arte giovanile (the Third National Exhibition of Young Art) at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome. In 1960 he graduated from the Brera Academy of Fine Arts and became the personal assistant of the artist Marino Marini, who sometimes told him: “Azuma, remember that you are Japanese…”.

In that year he decided to empty his studio of all the work he had created until then and begin a quest all his own that had its roots in an “unconstructed beauty, something that can only be felt by a Japanese; iron that is rusting, a house that is falling apart, the invisible element that is behind material, the full and the empty…” These reflections on the meaning of infinity and the life cycle brought him to the realization of his first bas-reliefs entitled MU. His first one-man exhibition was inaugurated at the Galleria Minima in Milan and diverse one-man exhibitions followed, among which is one at the Palazzo Strozzi in Venice and at the Galleria l'Obelisco in Rome in 1962, and at the Galleria Il Cavallino in Venice. Several prizes follow in 1963: the National Museum of Modern Art Award for his sculpture MU-99, the Emile Godar Prize for the MU-52 sculpture during the Concorso Internazionale di Scultura at La Sarraz (The International Sculpture Contest…) in Switzerland and second prize at Quinto Concorso Internazionale di Scultura (the Fifth International Contest for Sculpture) in Padua with the MU-89 sculpture. 

In 1964 Kengiro Azuma met the gallery owner Bruno Lorenzelli in his studio, and from this meeting they developed a long lasting friendship. In 1965 the artist is invited to the International Symposium of Sculpture at California State University where he installed MU-464 and participated in a group show entitled Japanese New Paintings and Sculptures at the San Francisco Museum of Art, which travelled to seven other American museums among which were the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. He had a one-man show at Toninelli Arte in 1966 and in 1968 he won second prize in the Dalmine Forma in Tubi (Dalmine Form in Tubes) competition. In 1971 he took part in the Simposio Internazionale di Scultura (Intedrnational Sculpture Symposium) at St. Margarethen with the installation Cielo Terra e Uomo (Sky, Earth and Man). Aldo Tagliferri wrote: “Cielo Terra e Uomo is Azuma's cosmos; a circumscribed fantasy world in which man loses the sense of his limits and places himself in relationship to a reality of which he is an integral part(…)”. In the same year his work Croce (Cross), originally created for the Franciscan Monastery at Sion, is placed in the collection of the Vatican Museums in Rome by Pope Paul VI himself . In 1972 he took part in an itinerant collective exhibition in Japan and in 1974 a one-man exhibition of his is presented in the museums of Tokyo, Yamagata and Osaka. In 1977 he returned to exhibit at Vatican Museums with his Folgorazione di San Paolo (The Conversion of Saint Paul). 

Marino Marini died in 1980 and Azuma followed the work for the construction of his museum in Florence and his foundation in Pistoia. In the same year the artist began to teach sculpture and goldsmith's art at the Nuova Accademia di Belli Arti (New Academy of Fine Arts) in Milan. In 1983 the Dordrecht Museum dedicated a one-person show to him and in 1984 he installed the large-scale sculpture MU-1000 in front of the administration building of Yamagata. In 1985 the artist began the Yu series and in 1986 Galerie Tschudi hosted a one-man show of his. In 1985 he began the Yu series and in 1986 the Tschudi Gallery in Glarus organized a one-man exhibition for him. In 1988 he exhibited his work in Percorso della Scultura (Sculpture Path), and in which he participated the following year, the idea of which was to transform Corso Vittorio Emanuele into an open-air museum. In September of the same year the Marino Marini museum was inaugurated in Florence at San Pancrazio church. Between 1988 and 1989 an Azuma retrospective exhibition toured six Japanese museums (Tokyo, Toyama, Kamakura, Yamanashi, Miyagi and Osaka). In 1990 Lorenzelli Arte (Milan) organized a one-person exhibition and in 1991 the artist installed A Monument of Life in the Asahi Mutual Life Insurance company building in Tokyo and one of his pieces was placed in the law faculty of the University of Strasbourg. In 1992 a monograph of his work was published by the Sezon Museum of Art in Tokyo and a collection of his poetry was published in Milan by Vanni Scheiwiller. In 1993 Azuma was nominated academic at San Luca in Rome, the same year in which he organized the Arte Africans (African Art) exhibition with pieces from the Carlo Monzino collection. The exhibition toured seven Japanese museums. In the same year he was received by the Emperor of Japan in a private function in Milan and his work was exhibited in Una mostra a Sant'Ambrogio (An Exhibition at Sant'Ambrogio) also in Milan. In 1994 he had a one-person exhibition at the Art Museum of Mendrisio. In 1995 he received the Shijuhosho award from the Emperor of Japan and was awarded the Ambrogino d'argento prize from the city of Milan. In that same year he installed MU-966 in the Granpark building of NTT company in Tokyo and at the beginning of 1997 the bronze sculpture, Piazza del Tempo (The Plaza of Time) in the Kothodai Park in Sendai, Japan. In 1998 he created an expository walk and installation, that became a permanent installation, entitled Il Sogno (The Dream) at La Marrana in Montemarcello, Ameglia of which Rossana Bossaglia wrote: “[…] he has always believed that there is no contrast between nature and art; quite to the contrary, that, in fact, there exists a correspondence, even a symbiosis, between the two. The series of installations that he created at Marrana suggests a specific path for the visitor as if he or she was dealing with an action that was unfolds in a temporal succession […]”. 

In 1999 the artist was nominated visiting professor at the National University of Art in Tokyo and took part in a collective exhibition at Palazzo Reale in Milan entitled Arte per Assisi (Art for Assisi) and had a one-person exhibition called La Luce di Teglio at Palazzo Besta in Teglio. In May of 2000, in Milan, the sixteen rose granite benches and planters created by Azuma were moved from Piazza San Babila to Piazza Cordusio and in 2001 the Emperor of Japan conferred the Kunyonto Kyokujitsusho award given to those who have rendered honor to Japan by their work. In 2002 he created, along with his son Anri Ambrogio, the Fontana delle Tartarughe (The Turtle Fountain) and was nominated visiting professor at the University of Art and Technology at Yamagata. In 2003, in Piazza Leonardi at Gattico, he inaugurated the Monumento al donatore (The Donor's Monument) created for the thirtieth anniversary of AVIS at Gattico, his adopted city. 

In 2004, at Castelbasso in the medieval hamlet, he inaugurated an exhibition entitled Kenjiro Azuma Musica del silenzio (Kenjiro Azuma, the Music of Silence) in the context of which he presented the Luce di Castelbasso (The Light of Castelbasso) installation. In Belluno, in 2005, the publisher Egidio Fiorin dedicated to the artist number. 18 of the books on artists series and published a text by the artist entitled L'orgoglio di essere artista (The Pride in Being an Artist) and a testimony written by Giorgio Lucini in the “Colophon” book series. Azuma had been working in Italy for fifty years. In 2006, in Vacciago di Ameno at the Fondazione Calderara he opened a one-person exhibition entitled Kenjiro Azuma. Ottan'anni (Kenjiro Azuma. Eighty Years) to celebrate his birthday. In Milan, from March 25th to April 20th 2009, he exhibited his MU-765 in Piazza Scala in the context of “MiArt ArtNow” under the aegis of Lorenzelli Arte. On I November 21st of the same year he was among 266 international art world exponents present at a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI held in the Sistine Chapel in Rome. 

In 2010 he inaugurated a retrospective exhibition of his at Sassi di Matera in the rock churches of the Madonna delle Virtù and San Nicola dei Greci and in he MUSMA Museum of Contemporary Sculpture at Matera. In the same year in Craveggia he inaugurated a one-person exhibition entitled La Luce di Craveggia (The Light of Craveggia) in the Spazio Museale Archvio Storico (the Historical Archives' Museum Space). In 2011, on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of Pope Benedict's priesthood, the artist created a piece on the theme of charity and hope, “hope… a drop of water”, MU-765M in polished bronze became part of the collection of the Vatican Museum by the will of the artist himself. 

Between 2011 and 2012, in the Museo Novecento (Museum of the Twentieth Century) of Milan he mounted an exhibition of his work in the Sala Focus space entitled Kenjiro Azuma 1961. In Locarno in 2012 in the Church of San Francesco created an altar, pulpit and candleholders in bronze and seats in solid oak. In 2015 in Milan he inaugurated a monument entitled MU-141 La vita infinita (The Infinite Life) with two benches in rose granite from Baveno, chosen by the artist. This work was donated by the Battaglia Artistic Foundry with the contribution of 30 citizens and the support of Amici del Monumentale (Friends of the Monumental Cemetery). In 2016 in Milan the artist inaugurated a one-person exhibition at the Galleria Cortina Arte entitled MU YU – il vuoto e il pieno (MU – YU Emptiness and Fullness) and in March his work MU- 141 is placed in front of Factory Sambonet at Orfengo. In the same year in October he installed a piece entitled Genesi – la luce di portofino (Genesis – The Light of Portofino) at Museo del Parco di Portofino (Museum of the Park of Portofino) and Lorenzelli Arte organized a one-person exhibition to celebrate his ninety years and his sixty years in Milan.

Kenjiro Azuma died in Milan in October, 2016.