Sunday, February 24, 2013

Japanese Postwar Art – Gutai

After the end of World War II, Japan saw a rise in young artists who called themselves the Gutai Art Association. In the fall of 2012, Hauser & Wirth mounted an exhibit of work called “A Visual Essay on Gutai at 32 East 69th Street” featuring artworks by twelve members of the Gutai. From the web exhibition at Hauser & Wirth, the exhibit “traces efforts by these artists to resolve the inherent contradictions between traditions of painting – the making of images on a flat, framed plane – and the core tenets of a movement that called for experimentation, individuality, unexpected materials, and, perhaps above all, physical action and psychological freedom.”

Although the members of Gutai attempted to distance their work from the past and from reminders of the war, death and destruction, I found several artworks that don’t escape the reminder of the horror of the atom bomb. Others allude to the mushroom cloud yet also hint at renewal and rebirth. Saburo Murakami’s Work, 1963, Paint, polyvinyl acetate adhesive, plaster on board, 182.5 x 107 x 10 cm / 71 7/8 x 42 1/8 x 3 7/8 in.Hiroshima echoes: Saburo Murakami's Work, 1963

Work — Jiro Yoshihara, 1967, Oil on canvas
90.9 x 115.5 cm / 35 3/4 x 45 1/2 in.


Work — Jiro Yoshihara, 1965, Oil on canvas, 182 x 227 cm / 71 5/8 x 89 3/8 in.


White Ceremony - E — Norio Imai, 1966—2012, Acrylic, cloth, plastic mold, 63 3/4 x 51 1/4 x 7 1/8 in

White Ceremony - E

Work65-Daiwa — Takesada Matsutani, 1965
Polyvinyl acetate adhesive, paint on canvas
183.4 x 183.5 cm / 72 1/4 x 72 1/4 in


Some of these artists were also featured in an exhibit called, “Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949-1962” at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in 2012. I’ve been working on a new series that focuses on form and color. The artwork of the artists of the Gutai is something I want to explore more fully, especially the artwork of Jiro Yoshihara.

All images courtesy of Hauser & Wirth. A book on Gutai, titled “Gutai: Decentering Modernism” is available, as is a catalog from the exhibit at Hauser & Wirth.

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