Wednesday, February 6, 2013

exhibition: spelndid playground

Much heralded opening of the Gutai exhibition: Splendid Playground in Guggenheim preceded by Lee Ufan show and Mono-ha exhibition at the Gladstone Gallery, as well as ongoing show in MoMA: Tokyo 1955-1970. A New Avant Garde marks the recent fervor on Japanese postwar art.
Mnontanaga SadamasaWork (Water), 1956
Polyethylene, water, dye, and rope, dimensions variable
Installation view: Outdoor Gutai Art Exhibition, Ashiya Park, Ashiya, July 27-August 5, 1956
© Motonaga Nakatsuji Etsuko, courtesy Motonaga Document Research Office

Gutai (1954–1972), a significant avant-garde artist collective founded by Yoshihara Jiro in in the town of Ashiya, near Osaka whose primary directive was: Do something no one's ever done before. From its earliest festival-like events, Gutai artist sought to break down the barriers between art, the ordinary public, and everyday life, and continuously took on new artistic challenges.
Yamazaki Tsuruko,  Work (Red Cube),  1956, wood, vinyl, lightbulbs
Installation view: Outdoor Gutai Art Exhibition, Ashiya Park, Ashiya, July 27-August 5, 1956
The Gutai group was unique in postwar Japan in that it spanned both the optimistic but raw period of postwar reconstruction during the 1950s. and the disillusioned but prosperous period of rapid growth of the 1960s. Gutai's history may be divided into two phases, using the establishment of Gutai Pinacotheca (1962), which operated out of three refurbished warehouses and functioned as a private contemporary art space as a turning point.
Gutai Art Association members in front of Gutai Pinacotheca, Osaka, 1962

During the first phase Gutai constructed self-expression as an assertion of the individual against the mass-conformist legacies of wartime totalitarianism. Not only did they lead by example, performing powerful acts of self-expression, but they sought to develop the autonomy of others—of their audience, the general public, and especially of children—by provoking them to think, create, and imagine for themselves.

Yoshihara Jiro, Please Draw Freely, 1956, Paint and marker on wood
Installation view: Outdoor Gutai Art Exhibition, Ashiya Park, Ashiya, July 27-August 5, 1956
© Yoshihara Shinichirō and the former members of the Gutai Art Association, courtesy Museum of Osaka University

During the group’s second phase (1962–72), Gutai assessed and experimented with new technologies, seeking ways to counter the perceived dehumanization caused by Japan’s rapid growth and evaluating its cultural impact.

Nasaka Senkichirō and Yoshihara Michio, Work, 1970
Stainless steel pipe and recorded sound, approximately 150 meters long
Installation view: Gutai Group Exhibition, Midori Pavilion, Expo ’70, Osaka, March 15- September 13, 1970
© Nasaka Senkichirō, Yoshihara Naomi and the former members of the Gutai Art Association, courtesy Museum of Osaka University
Unbridled invention led the Gutai to experiment with new methods and materials: they painted with watering cans, remote-control toys, homemade cannons, and bare feet; made ephemeral site-specific works using the sky, water, sand, lightbulbs, and torn paper screens, and staged exhibitions in public parks, on the beach, and in bombed-out ruins.

But despite it boundless creativity and chronological priority in performance and installation art, Gutai remained relatively marginalized within the history of modernism. The Guggenheim show co-curator, Ming Tiampo in her article Cultural mercantilismModernism's means of Production: The Gutai Group as Case Study describes how the group's first show at Martha Jackson Gallery in New York (1958) was received by critics who did not bother to conceal their contempt calling their art an imitation of the Abstract-Expressionism.
Shiraga KazuoWork II, 1958, Oil on paper, mounted on canvas 
Hyōgo Prefectural Museum of Art, Kobe
© Shiraga Hisao, courtesy Hyōgo Prefectural Museum of Art

Will Guggenheim's exhibition demystify it and help to see Gutai practice not as derivative or belated, but rather as a part of multidimentional history of postwar modernism, which should not longer be regarded as strictly Western phenomenon.

Comprising approximately 145 works by 25 artists and spanning two generations of Gutai artists, Gutai: Spendid Playground is organized into six chronological and thematic sections presented along the Guggenheim ramps: Play, Concept, Network, Concrete, Performance Painting, Environment. The exhibition also includes documentary films of the group’s historic outdoor exhibitions and stage events and focus on their eponymous journal as a platform for international artistic exchange.  

Tanaka Atsuko, Work (Bell), 1955,
bells, electric cords, transimpedance amplifier, and switch, dimensions
The Rachofsky Collection and the Dallas Museum of Art through the DMA/amfAR Benefit Auction Fund 
The exhibition features among others Tanaka Atsuko’s interactive sound-art installation Work (Bell), where visitors activate a cacophony of bells ringing sequentially across the Guggenheim’s and “performance paintings” by Murakami Saburo, Shimamoto Shozo, and Shiraga Kazuo. For Shiraga, painting with his feet enabled an unmediated encounter with the material and a direct bodily form of artistic expression, seen in such paintings as Work II and in his performance Challenging Mud, where the artist “painted” with his entire body in a pile of grit, directly engaging with raw matter.
Shiraga KazuoChallenging Mud, 1955
performance view: second execution, 1st Gutai Art Exhibition , Ohara Kaikan,  Tokyo  October  19, 1955.
Photo courtesy Amagasaki Cultural Center, copyright Shiraga Hisao and the former members of the Gutai Art Association

New directions in environment art marked Gutai’s second phase, explored in “Environment: Gutai Art for the Space Age” section of the exhibition which highlights artists from this later period of Gutai production, who have long been neglected in scholarship, such as Imai Norio, Imanaka Kumiko, Kikunami Jōji, Matsuda Yutaka, Matsutani Takesada, Mukai Shūji, Nasaka Senkichirō, Nasaka Yūko, and Yoshida Minoru. Exploring the relationship between art, its environment, and the viewer, Gutai’s intermedia works incorporate optical illusion, light projection, and movement. Artists frequently motorized their sculptures, turning exhibition spaces into dens of screeching, pulsing, machinelike organisms. Yoshida‘s erotic machine-sculpture Bisexual Flower mines the psychedelic effects of this approach.
Yoshida Minoru, Bisexual Flower, 1969
Plexiglas, motors, electrical circuitry, ultraviolet tubes, bath salts, water, and sound,
Estate of Yoshida Minoru, Japan
Installation view: Gutai: Splendid Playground, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum,
New York, February 15–May 8, 2013. 
Photo: David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

A centerpiece of the exhibition is a site-specific commission of Work (Water) (1956/2011) by the late Motonaga Sadamasa, who reimagined his iconic early Gutai outdoor installation, made of plastic tubes filled with colored water, for the Guggenheim rotunda. 

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