Japanese contemporary artist Yutaka Sone uses a variety of media, but is best known for his carved marble and crystal sculptures. In this exhibition, Sone's marble representations of island cities are both accurate and beautiful. Intricately carved out of several tons of majestic white stone, they act as 3D maps of complex cities. Every street, park, tower, river, harbour and hill is included in detail. Sone has even carved all the bridges surrounding Little Manhattan (2007–09) even though they lead to nowhere but the surrounding space.
Sone's choice of marble, an ancient medium, contradicts the modern-day technologies he has employed to create these works. The earliest sculpture, Hong Kong Island (Chinese) (1998), may have been the most challenging for Sone, who had to rely on aerial photographs, maps and frequent visits to produce an accurate representation of the island. Ten years later, Sone was able to use an early version of Google Earth, in addition to helicopter rides, to create Little Manhattan (2007–09). By the time he created the most recent sculpture, Venezia (2013), he relied almost entirely on Google Earth, with just a few visits in person.
Sone could have used a newer, easier medium for these clinically white sculptures, but it feels as though he is conveying a message by using marble. The veins running through the marble are a reminder that a natural material has been used to create an otherwise very man-made structure. It takes several men a long time to carve these sculptures, but this is incomparable to the millions of years that it has taken for the marble to form.
Investing time in his work is one of Sone's trademarks. He has a Chinese studio in Chongwu Town, Fujian Province, where he spends many months creating sculptures with the locals. Sone is the best stone carver in the town, followed by a young employee who has worked exclusively with him for ten years. The high level of craftsmanship is apparent from the intricate detail of each sculpture, with stunningly smooth sides, which fall away like carefully draped cloth.
Upstairs at David Zwirner is Sone's Canary Island date palm. Created in his Mexican studio, it is made from rattan woven around a metal armature. The tree has been hand-painted to look real and even features old, brown palm fronds to add authenticity. The painted green colours are slightly lurid, but they create the impression of intense light bouncing off the leaves. This sculpture is an example of Sone's worship of natural objects by replicating them with painstaking attention to detail. As an artist, Sone is full of inspirational ideas, nurturing several projects at once, which he described in a 2010 ART iT interview as "gardening-style" creativity. The half-finished works in his studios may appear messy, but when he sees a project through to fruition, the end result is flawless.
Overall, Sone manages to portray a tension between the natural and the man-made. Visitors must stand back and admire the incredible workmanship involved in the creation of accurately mapped cities, delicately carved from marble. The exhibition would be all the more impressive if it featured his acclaimed snow flakes, carved from single blocks of crystal. Yet this is only Sone's first solo show at David Zwirner in London, therefore it may not be his last.