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But is It art?

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By Attila Soos
Photographs by Walter Pall

We've heard this question many times during the past few years. It divided the bonsai community, and turned long-time friends into enemies. Some would turn away in disgust as soon as this question reared its ugly head in Internet discussions.

Is it art

For those of us who had no doubt about where bonsai belonged in this debate, the ultimate thing happened this week: bonsai took a major leap forward by claiming its rightful place inside the world of fine art galleries.

And who else could have done it, if not the extremely talented and forever young artist, Walter Pall? His passion and dedication to his work can only teach us that when it comes to bonsai, you need to follow your heart, and ignore the rest of the crowd. Your love for these magnificent trees will eventually take you to the right place.

At least that's what happened to Walter. His bonsai ended up in Munich's prestigious gallery of modern arts, Galerie Terminus. This gallery is one of the leading art galleries in Munich. It recently exhibited the sculptures of Boaz Vaadia, combined with the bonsai of Walter Pall.

Is it art

To those unfamiliar with the history of bonsai and its place in our Western society, this is nothing short of earth-shattering. In recent years, there were a few attempts to exhibit bonsai in the company of fine arts. These attempts were received with ambiguity and mixed feelings by the bonsai community. Many questioned the knowledge and skill behind it, and wrote it off as of poor taste. They concluded that the Japanese refined the art of displaying bonsai to such a high degree that we, Westerners, have no chance of taking it to another level.

This recent exhibit has proven them all wrong. And the date of September 4th, 2006, should be remembered as a historic date: the day when bonsai officially shattered the glass wall, separating it from the rest of the fine arts.

The combination of modern sculptures with bonsai resulted in a stunning display of creativity. The abstract sculptures provided a seamless decorum for Walter's naturalistic trees. And the trees brought life and a hint of nature's constant drama into the world of abstract sculptures. A perfect match.

Is it art

"The contacts and the overall appreciation were incredibly good" says Walter, recounting his impressions of the event. He continues "This may not create much business but it certainly will create a lot of goodwill. One could dream of finding sponsors for big events. One could dream of having more of such art shows where bonsai are on eye level with great pieces of art."

This means one thing: bonsai is changing, and nobody can stop this change. It is rapidly losing its cultural identity, becoming international, and adapting to the local tastes and practices. Says Walter: "Some standard bonsai stands are OK. But in general bonsai are treated like all sculptures. There is no such thing as special stand and access objects and certainly no scrolls. The arts crowd did not miss any of that stuff. Mainly because they don't know about it anyway. I think we should not even try to teach them. And I made it clear that what I am doing is not a Japanese art form anyway". Music to our ears, or our worst nightmare? It depends on whom you ask.

More pointers from Walter: "Trees have to be exhibited as sculptures in such a setting. People will almost never look at them from the 'right' angle. They look at them from the side, crawl into them and look at them from behind. Trees have to look somewhat good from all sides."

Is it art

Artists and art lovers are known to be an outspoken bunch. They will not hesitate telling us when they see something great, or the opposite. Trusting their opinions and listening to what they have to say about bonsai will only help to end our isolation and give our art form the long-awaited recognition. I see this happening, and I am really excited about it.

Pictures of this historical exhibit can be viewed at the Knowledge of Bonsai Forums

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