Gutai: An Annotated Bibliography
Compiled by John Held, Jr.
Allen, Gwen. Artists’ Magazines: An Alternative Space for Art. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, England, 2011. 368 pages.
An extensive “Compendium of Artists’ Magazines from 1945 to 1989,” lists the Gutai journal, and quotes from the first issue. “This pamphlet is made by seventeen modern artists who are living between Osaka and Kobe of Japan, to ask their works to the world.” The cover of Gutai, Number 4, is reproduced in color. Elsewhere in the text, Gutai magazine is placed within a chronological and geographical context. “…even a cursory glance at the proliferation of artists’ magazines published around the globe in the postwar period complicates the belief that publications transcend physical location; instead, we are prompted to consider how they register the specific national, regional and local circumstances of their production and distribution. The importance of magazines in fostering artistic dialog between countries and continents is evident beginning with artists’ periodicals of the 1950s and early 1960s, such as Gutai, Boa, Zero, Gorgona, Revue Nul= o, Integration, Spirale, Azimuth, Diagonal Cero, El Corno Emplumado, and dé-coll/age, which were often self-consciously international in orientation; they sought to give artistic movements a higher profile on the world stage, while opening up local artistic communities to influences from abroad – goals that were evidenced by their frequently polyglot pages.”
Altshuler, Bruce. The Avant-Garde in Exhibition: New Art in the 20th Century. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California. 1998. 287 pages.
Tracing major exhibitions that changed the course of art in the twentieth century, the chapter, “To Challenge the Sun: Exhibitions of the Gutai Art Association, Ashiya, Osaka, Tokyo, 1955-1957,” focuses on the group’s forays into the public sphere in the environment, onstage and in galleries. One year after it’s formation, Gutai presented, “The Experimental Outdoor Modern Art Exhibition to Challenge the Burning Midsummer Sun,” by twenty-three of it’s members in July 1955. Later that year, “The First Gutai Exhibition,” was presented in Tokyo. A press conference was called to celebrate the fabrication of works for the exhibition, including Murakami’s, “Making Six Holes in One Moment,” and Shiraga’s, “Challenging Mud,” which were exhibited shortly thereafter. Performative actions formed many of the seminal works presented during the, “One Day Outdoor Art Exhibition,” staged expressly for Life magazine, which never published the resultant photographic documentation. Second outdoor and indoor exhibitions followed featuring such classic Gutai works as Shimamoto’s firing paint from a small cannon and Tanaka’s, “Electric Dress.” Gutai’s “Art on Stage,” preceding Allan Kaprow’s “18 Happenings in 6 Parts” by a year, allowed the public, as well as the press, to observe Gutai’s working methodology. The chapter concludes with mention of the 1960 “International Sky Festival,” which included contributions by international artists in a collaborative levitation of paintings by kite.
Bertozzi, Barbara. “Gutai: The Happening People.” Flash Art (New York, New York), May/June 1991. Pages 94-101.
Follows Gutai chronology through their exhibitions, stressing innovative performative actions hailed in turn by Michel Tapié and Allan Kaprow. The author debunks the notion of Gutai arising from Dada, noting that “rather than take its inspiration from destructive criteria, (Gutai) would seem more propelled by a joyously creative impulse and an extraordinarily rapturous vitality.” The cover of the magazine features a photograph of Shozo Shimamoto performing, “Networking on the Head,” a special “Artist’s Project for Flash Art, 1991.”
Bonnefoy, Françoise and Sarah Clément, Isabelle Sauvage. Gutai. Galerie National du Jeu de Paume, Paris, France, 1999. 286 pages.
One of the major exhibition catalogs on Gutai, this alas, all in French. However, anyone can gain by perusing the excellent color reproductions. Essays by Antoni Tápies, Michael Lucken, Éric Mézil, Geroge Mathieu (“La Peinture et le Samurai”), Paul Jenkins (“Yoshihara et les Artistes Gutai”), Osaki Shinichiro, Ito Junji, and Véronique Béranger. A chronology from 1946-1999, prepared by Hirai Shoichi and Yamamoto Atsuo, running 81 pages, is an exceptional feature of the work. Alessandra Bellavita contributes a biographical section.
Burch, Charlton, Editor. “Gutai and the Avant-Garde in Japan.” Lightworks (Birmingham, Michigan), Number 16, Winter 1983/1984.
The issue contains three articles on Gutai, including Shozo Shimamoto’s first hand account, “The Beginnings of Gutai,” Yoshio Shirakawa’s “Gutai: Spirit Takes Form” and “On the Side of the Assassins,” in which Shirakawa places Gutai within the context of other Japanese avant-garde movements (Mavo, Neo-Dada, Hi-Red Center). Especially revealing is Shimamoto’s accounts of Jiro Yoshihara, who he recalls as, “a born misanthrope.” An important contribution to the literature is Shimamoto’s reflections on the “spirit of hattari,” which Yoshihara instilled in him. “He hammered the ‘spirit of hattari’ into me. Hattari is an Osaka slang word that refers to a person who tries to appear more able or powerful than he actually is, or who does things by guesswork. This slang term was originally used in a negative way and the word itself lacks dignity, but Yoshihara favored it, seeing in it a good meaning. He taught me to acquire and make use of the spirit of hattari.” Includes a two-page diagram of the Japanese avant-garde from 1918 through 1970. The issue presented an incisive and early English language introduction to the movement.
Caraotti, Elena and Debbie Bibo, Editors. Sentieri Interrotti: Crisi della Rappresentazione e Iconoclastia nelle Arti dagli Anni Cinquanta alla Fine del Secolo (Vanished Paths: Crisis of Representation and Destruction in the Arts from the 1950s to the End of the Century). Charta, Milan, Italy. 2000. 370 pages.
“Taking stock of past experiences” and predicting the future drives this exhibition notable for featuring intriguing international avant-garde movements arising after mid-nineteenth century. Cobra, Gutai, Lettrism, Fluxus, Visual Poetry and Mail Art are among the movements given a stage to present their often hidden histories. Although the chapter on Gutai is at best rudimentary, stricken by a shaky translation and unreliable information (Atsuko Tanaka is mistakenly identified as male), the work is significant for it’s reproduction of Ben Vautier’s essay, “On the Subject of the Gutai,” published in 1976, noting the deficiencies of Tapié’s smothering embrace, and the debt owed Gutai by Yves Klein. “It is not, however, because they are not talked about in Europe as much as they deserve, nor because they are a long way from us geographically, that we can conclude that the movement has no influence on contemporary painting and European painting. This is not true. I recall, for example, that the first time I heard about the Gutai group was in 1957, during a conversation with Yves Klein, who had just returned from Osaka in Japan, where he had won a judo competition. Klein had thus seen Tanaka’s white monochromes. And let us not forget that Pollock himself expressed an interest in the work of the Gutai. As regards their influence on happenings, I am not so sure, although John Cage’s “Silence” concert only took place in 1954/55, and there is a certain link between New York and Osaka.”
(Peeters, Henk). Nul Negentienhonderd Vijf en Zestig (Zero 1965). Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. April 15 – June 8, 1965. (32 pages).
Organized by Henk Peters and the Zero Group, who were attempting to place their group in an international context, the exhibition drew together artists from disparate movements Zero, Nul, Gutai and T. As quoted by Ming Tiampo in Gutai: Decentering Modernism, Peteers is quoted as saying that, “I couldn’t make a revolution by myself,” and so other artists were invited to realize, “a new global culture,” where “art is not nationalist.” Gutai was assigned a separate gallery, where eight artists were shown (Yoshihara, Kanayama, Montonaga, Murakami, shimamoto, Tanaka, Yamasaki, Michio Yoshihara.) In addition to the groups Peeters invited, exhibited artists included Arman, Pol Bury, Lucio Fontana, Hans Haacke, Yves Klein, Piero Manzoni, George Rickey and Yayoi Kusama. A group photo of nineteen of the exhibiting artists is included, as well as reproductions of works and installation documentation.
Di Lallo, Emanuela, Editor. Gutai: Painting with Time and Space. Silvana Editoriale, Museo Cantonale d’Arte, Lugano, Lugano, Switzerland. 2010. 263 pages.
Catalog for the Museo Catonale d’Arte, Lugano, exhibition, “Gutai: Painting with Time and Space,” held from October 23, 2010 through February 20, 2011, describing itself as, “…enriched by academic contributions and many documentary images and writings for the time, [this catalog] is the most up-to-date publication now available on this Japanese artistic group.” The work, along with the more recent publication of Ming Tiampo’s sustained narrative, “Gutai: Decentering Modernism,” (University of Chicago Press. 2011. 231 pages.), gives the interested English language reader (texts are in Italian and English) unprecedented access to previously inaccessible material. Tiampo contributes the essay, “Gutai Experiments on the World Stage,” as well as providing concise and informative artist biographies and an expansive bibliography, which is highly recommended for the reader wanting to go beyond my more humble beginning. Other essays reflect on the outdoor exhibitions, the group’s reception in Europe, Gutai’s relationship to other avant-garde artists, and misunderstandings (…beside Tapié, Yves Klein’s renunciation) impeding recognition of their accomplishments. The catalog also reproduces a significant number of paintings, invaluable documentary photography, and a comprehensive chronology compiled by Shoichi Hirai. Indispensible.
Elliott, David and Kazu Kaido, Editors. Reconstructions: Avant-Garde Art in Japan, 1945-1965. Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, England. 1985. 96 pages.
The catalog to the exhibition provides an excellent social, political and cultural background to the situation of Japanese artists before, during and after World War II. “The title of the exhibition, Reconstructions, refers literally to the rebuilding of a shattered country as well as metaphorically to the reassessment of the cultural history of post-war Japan which is now beginning to take place.” Painters influenced by Surrealism and Social Realism are examined along with Gutai. The movement is given a short introduction and artist biographies are provided for Jiro Yoshihara, Shozo Shimamoto, Kazuo Shiraga, Atsuko Tanaka, Akira Kanayama and Suburo Murakami.
Ferguson, Russell, Editor. Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object, 1949-1979. Thames and Hudson, New York, and The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California. 1998. 407 pages.
Catalog for the exhibition curated by MOCA, LA curator Paul Schimmel, presenting a showcase for “an international survey that brings together artists of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s whose work was undeniably altered by their association with performative actions.” In his essay, “Leap into the Void: Performance and the Object,” Chief Curator Schimmel cites Pollock, Cage, Fontana and Gutai member Shozo Shimamoto as exerting “a tremendous influence on postwar art to place a new emphasis on the role of the act in the creation of the object.” His survey of Gutai ruminates upon Shiraga (“Kazuo Shiraga is the most complete and multifaceted embodiment of Gutai.”), Akira Kanayama (who anticipated Jean Tinguely’s mechanical drawing machines), Saburo Murakami, Shimamoto, and Atsuko Tanaka (“Clearly, this work [“Electric Dress”] anticipated 1970s feminist art and artists’ use of their own bodies in dangerous situations.”). Shinichiro Osaki contributes the essay, “Body and Place: Action in Postwar Art in Japan,” walking us through the formation Gutai based on Jiro Yoshihara’s transformation from abstract painting to, “a quite new, epoch-making idea which was not thought of before the war, must emerge in the art world as a mainstream, like Dada after the end of the First World War.” Impregnated with social observations of postwar Japan and the artists’ place within it, the essay ties the work of Gutai to later avant-garde-groups active in Japan, such as Hi Red Center and Neo-Dada. Osaki concludes with the observation that, “Postwar art in Japan has often been considered regional or imitative. However, it is obvious that it has developed around the concrete issues of body and place, resulting in an art form entirely different from contemporary art in Europe and America.
Fujino, Tadatoshi. A New Perspective Gutai: Through the Eyes of Fujino, Tadatoshi. Koumyakusya, Miyazaki City, Japan. 2011. Paper. 216 pages.
“This book presents the story of GUTAI, a group of artists who challenged then current concepts of beauty from a completely new viewpoint. But the book is somewhat different from the usual book on art. It is made up of photographs and short histories of GUTAI artists, pus my evaluation of the place of GUTAI in modern art…I joined GUTAI in 1965, and for the greater part of 40 years have ben active in showing my work in their exhibits, contributing to discussions, and collecting members work. Now, I am writing the history of GUTAI as I have experienced it.” The work is notable for the inclusion both historic photographs and more recent ones picturing Gutai artists at various reunions over the years. Nice section of written and current photographic portraits of Gutai members with reproductions of their work. Texts in Japanese and English.
Goldberg, Roselee. Performance: Live Art Since 1960. Harry N. Abrams, New York, New York. 1998. 240 pages.
The author is a pioneer art historian in the field of performance art, reminiscing in her introduction on the early years of the profession when, “My task in constructing the first history of a medium with no real name involved searching through odd journals, ephemera, and photo archives, looking for material that had been all but forgotten. It was overlooked because it often fit no category, and unexamined because this material could no long be seen, only described. I nevertheless ended up with an unexpected conclusion to my book. Not only did live art by artists represent the very spirit of its own times and reveal the ways in which artists from different disciplines interconnected, it also showed me how certain ideas in a painting or a sculpture, which as a traditional art historian I might have looked for in other paintings or sculptures, often originated is some sort of performed action.” The author’s first attempt at encapsulating performance art history, “Performance: Live Art 1909 to the Present,” Abrams, New York, 1979), excluded Gutai, and while the introduction to “Live Art Since 1960 contains only a rudimentary introduction of Gutai, it’s importance lies in situating the group’s artistic practice within, and influence upon, the history of an emerging field of artistic practice.
Gray, John. Action Art: A Bibliography of Artists’ Performance from Futurism to Fluxus and Beyond. Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut. 1993. 343 pages.
In a section entitled, “Action Art 1950s-1970s: Gutai, Happenings, Fluxus, Viennese Actionism, Destruction in Art, the Provos, Situationism and Beyond,” we find sixty-seven entries on Gutai including books, exhibition catalogs, thesis, journal articles and special issues, exhibition and performance reviews. International in scope, the bibliography cites mainly English language texts but does include important foreign language material. A well- researched document by a former MoMA/NY librarian.
Gutai Members. Gutai Pinacotheca. Gutai Pinacotheca, Osaka, Japan. (August)1962. (12 pages).
I have been able to view a few Gutai publications firsthand, in addition to the Gutai magazine facsimile edition. The Pinacotheca publications seem to follow a similar pattern of thin (no more than twenty pages) pamphlets of a standard size (roughly 10” x 10”). This particular work, dated August 14, 1962, was issued in conjunction with the inauguration of the Gutai Pinacotheca on August 25, in the Nakanoshima district of Osaka, and bears the well known photograph of Gutai members in the courtyard of the Pinacotheca with Yoshihara front and center arms akimbo. There is a reproduction of a handwritten text by Tapié, titled, “Osaka Aout 1962,” photographs of what is probably the 11th Gutai Exhibition held April 17-22, 1962 at the Takashimaya Department store, Osaka, and a listing of twenty-one Gutai artists and twenty-two Western artists (titled “Collection”), including South African Christo Coetzee, Claire Falkenstein (a San Francisco Bay Area artist who taught at the Art Institute, residing for a while in Paris where she and fellow Bay Area artist Sam Francis met Tapié), Lucio Fontana, Sam Francis, Paul Jenkins, Georges Mathieu, Alfonso Ossoro and others. A Gutai chronology follows with thumbnail photographs of historic Gutai exhibitions.
Gutai Members. Lucio Fontana/Giuseppe Capogrossi. Gutai Pinacotheca, Osaka, Japan. (16 pages). (June)1964.
Catalog of the June 1 – 20, 1964, exhibition of the two Italian artists at the Gutai Pinacotheca. According to the introductory text of Jiro Yoshihara, this was the first time foreign artists were shown at the Pinacotheca. “It is the great pleasure for us that the exhibition of the paintings by the two distinguished artists for whom we have held the utmost respect and love is opened here by our hands. / By now we have introduced in Osaka the oeuvres by such artists inspiring our respect and sympathy as Mathieu, Sam Francis, Imai, Coetzee, Assetto, Garelli, etc. This two-man show as well is one of such serial activities as ours. / To our great pleasure, however, the fact that the show is opened this time in our own Pinacotheca means that one of the objects of the establishment of the Gutai Pinacotheca is for the first time realized by this show.” Following Yoshihara’s remarks, the Italian Ambassador writes a short congratulatory text. Fontana sends a telegraph message reading in part, “…I take the opportunity to say that your group has been frequently and important inspiration source for my work.” Reproductions of the two artists works and biographical information are included, as well as a tipped-in print by Capogrossi.
Gutai Members. Iuko Nasaka. Gutai Piacotheca, Osaka, Japan. November 1964. (4 pages).
An example of a catalog produced for an exhibition of one of the Gutai members. Female artist Nasaka was one of the “new wave” Gutai members, joining in 1963 and remaining with the group until it disbanded in 1972. The slim publication reproduces a centerfold of the artist in front of her work with a short text and limited biographical chronology. On the back cover of the publication, twenty-one members of the “Gutai Group” are listed.
Hirai, Soichi, Editor. GUTAI: The Spirit of an Era. The National Art Center, Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan. 2012. 296 pages.
The 2012 exhibition catalog from the National Art Center, Tokyo, documenting the first Tokyo retrospective of Gutai works covering all it’s periods. In his essay, “Gutai: A Utopia of the Modern Spirit,” editor Shoichi discusses the reasons for the movements four decade omission from Tokyo artistic investigation. The author argues that while Tokyo dismissed Gutai, it was equally misunderstood in the West. Underlying all of these misgivings was Yoshihara’s desire for the emergence of a new spirit after war torn Japan. “It seems that Yoshihara truly believed that pursuing new horizons in art was connected to the liberation of the spirit and would help people live a better life in turbulent times as well as contributing to the development of the human race as a whole…If Yoshihara believed that art would force Japan, after its military defeat, to become a modern nation of the sort that it was destined to be before the war, and a country that could engage in discourse on equal terms with the West based on a shared set of values, one might also say that Gutai offered him a practical means of achieving the goal of a ‘Utopia of the modern spirit’ that was thoroughly characteristic of someone who had been steeped in the liberalism of the ‘20s…” Other essays include Yukako Yamada’s, “Approaching the Finale: The Osaka Expo,” which traces the evolution of Gutai’s parting gesture, and “From Ashiya to Amsterdam: Gutai’s Exhibition Spaces,” by Naoki Yoneda, which discusses various Gutai exhibitions both at home and abroad, but focuses on the architectural space of the Gutai Pinachotheca. The main text breaks the movement into early, middle and later periods, with extensive photo documentation of each. English translations are provided at the conclusion of the work, as is a “Gutai Chronology,” and “Biographical Sketches of the Artists,” as well as a complete listing of works in the exhibition.
Hirai, Soichi, Editor. What is Gutai? Bijutsu Shuppan-Sha, Hyogo, Japan. 2004.
Curator of the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art, Hirai Shoichi, contributes the texts to this wide-ranging yet detailed overview of Gutai history, which he divides into a beginning (1954-1957), middle (1957-1965) and ending (1965-1972) period. “It seems to me that from the outset there has been a tendency to avoid discussing Gutai as a unified entity. Or, to put it another way: The simple but fundamental question of what exactly Gutai was has been overshadowed by the group’s image as ‘international” and ‘pioneering,’ and has gone unanswered in the thirty years since the group’s breakup.” Was Gutai the Gutai Manifesto? Shoichi argues not, that it was written in response to a newspaper inquiry, and the true meaning of Gutai lies in Yoshihara’s pithy exclamatory aphorisms “Don’t copy others!” and “Do something no one else has done!” The strength of the work not only lies in the curator’s familiarity with Gutai material, but the insight derived from it. Throughout the chronological examination of Gutai history (Yoshihara’s background, The Genbi Art Panel, publication of Gutai, outdoor exhibition and Life magazine, Gutai Works for the Stage, meeting Tapié, the opening of the Pinocotheca, the Osaka Expo, the death of Yoshihara), we are treated to a multitude of informatively captioned photographic documentation. Excellent appendixes include a photographic documentary on Gutai venues past and present in Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo; a selected chronology; a guide to museums with collections of Gutai; biographical sketches of Gutai members, and a guide to primary sources. An invaluable and path breaking work in the literature of the field.
Hülsewig, Jutta and Yoshio Shirakawa, Stephen von Weiss. Dada in Japan: Japanische Avantgarde: 1920-1970. Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf, Germany. 1983. 145 pages.
A “Japan Avant-Gardes Map,” compiled by Yoshio Shirakawa serves as the frontispiece for the German exhibition catalog, listing thirty-three Japanese Modern and Post-Modern groups active from 1950 to 1968. Essays and chronologies (on Mavo and Gutai) accompany a work laden with documentary photography, with over one-hundred photographs of Gutai activity alone. Twenty texts are presented, all of them in German. Groups warranting special mention include Mavo, Gutai, Neo-Dada and High Red Center. Suboru Murakami contributes the essay, “Gutai ist Gutai,” Yoshio Shirakawa presents, “Gutais Anfänge,” while Ben Vautier adds, “Warum diese Ausstellung?” Besides his map, Shirakawa also produces a helpful diagram listing various Japanese avant-garde groups, with concurrent world activity, and political, social and cultural events in Japan helping to shape the direction of the postwar Fine Arts in Japan.
Kaprow, Allan. Assemblage, Environments & Happenings. Harry N. Abrams, New York, New York. (1966). 341 pages.
Text and design by happenings innovator Allan Kaprow. An early examination of the field, Kaprow writes in the preface that, “It has been written in the midst of a young activity, with an interest that was both observant and highly biased. Being part of the activity, I was inclined to look at and judge an art-in-the-making as well as influence its course. Artists, like critics and historians, make the history they reflect, even with the best of intentions to remain objective. I thought, when I began writing, that I should try both to observe and to influence as much as possible.” And indeed, Kaprow’s placing of Gutai in the center of this newly examined form, had a profound effect in elevating Gutai to a new level of historic prominence within the field. “For the record,” Kaprow states in his introduction to Gutai performance photographic documentation, “the dates accompanying these photographs seem to indicate the priority of the Japanese in the making of a Happening type performance. Even earlier in America, John Cage in 1952 organized an event at Black Mountain College combining paintings, dance, films, slides, recordings, radios, poetry, piano playing, and a lecture, with the audience in the middle of the activity. Since my own first efforts, in 1957, were done in Cage’s composition class, where he described this event, I should mention it as an important catalyst…Of the Gutai’s activities I knew nothing until Alfred Leslie mentioned them to me two years later, and it was not until late 1963 that I obtained the information presented here. This is a rare case of modern communications malfunctioning.” Captions for the photographs of Gutai activities provided to Kaprow by Yoshihara.
Kawakami, Shigeki, Editor. Do Something No One’s Ever Done Before. Kwansei Gakuin University, Nishinomiya, Japan. 2010. 32 pages.
While most of the texts in this exhibition catalog are in Japanese, there are two English language essays included. “Jiro Yoshihara, His Gutai Art Society, and Stanley William Hayter in Paris,” by Tetsuya Higashiura, is short but informative, mentioning Yoshihara’s relationship with Fujita before the creation of Gutai, his formation of the Association, and Gutai’s influence on other artists, including master printmaker Stanley William Hayter. Takesada Matsutai contributes the essay, “Inheriting Jiro Yoshihara’s Spirit,” in which the now Paris based artist delves into the psyche of Yoshihara, quoting from his autobiography. “In 1928, I saw the extraordinary sunflowers by Vincent Van Gough on exhibition in Osaka. It is a vertical picture on about a size 30 canvas of three or four withered sunflower in a clay vase on a table. In the background I saw a horizontal line in dark ultramarine blue paint squeezed from the tube to lie in relief on the canvas. The sunflowers were partially outlined in vermillion. It was such a unique and powerful painting it made me tremble. I believe it was the Sunflowers by Van Gough and the Deserted House by Paul Cezanne (Matsukata Collection) that determined the course of my subsequent life.” Although short, the essay contains other poignant observations by one of the younger members of Gutai.
Kuma, Chinatsu, Editor. Gutai, Facsimilie Edition. Geikashoin Co., Ltd., Tokyo, Japan. 2010. Twelve Volume Box Set with Supplement.
Impossible to obtain as a set, Gutai Magazine has been an invaluable yet unattainable resource for institutions and researchers alike. The regional museum around which Gutai members resided, the Ashiya City Museum of Art and History, stepped into this void to supervise the production of a twelve volume facsimile edition with accompanying booklet. The booklet is an invaluable aid for English language readers, as all the text published in Japanese in the original magazines are translated into English. In addition to these translations, Jiro Yoshihara’s, “The Gutai Art Manifesto,” is presented, as well as three essays Shoichi Hirai’s, “The Gutai Art Association and the Gutai Bulletin,” Mizuho Kato’s, “A Bridge to the World: Gutai, 1956-1959,” and Yuri Mitsuda’s, “Gutai and Gendai Bijutsu in Japan – The Critique of Representational Art.” Complete bibliographic information (editor, publisher, publication date, printer, price, etc.) is given from each issue, based on materials from the Jiro Yoshihara Archives.
Mats B, Editor, “Japanskt Kalejdoskop.” Kalejdoskiop (Ahus, Sweden), No. 4 & 5, 1980. 79 pages.
Sometimes associated with the Fluxus group, Mats B. edited this early special issue on the Japanese avant-garde of the fifties, sixties and seventies, with special attention placed on Gutai, Mono-Ha, and individual artists, who remain unfamiliar to most Western observers. Toru Takahashi, contributes the essay, “Gutai och Jiro Yoshihara,” in Swedish, as are all the included essays save Toshiaki Minemura’s “Survey in English: The Japanese Kaleidoscipe.” Reproductions of works and actions by Saburo Murakami, Kazso Shiraga, Sadamasa Montonaga, Atsuko Tanaka, Michio and Jiro Yoshihara accompany the Gutai essay. The “Survey in English,” places Gutai in regard to a debate on Surrealists versus Modernists (the Surrealists were literary and politically prone). “As for members of the Group Gutai, the most successful forerunners of the sixties’ art who, in 1955, had already begun showing every unrestrained invention imaginable such as light tableau, action painting, water or foam sculpture, inflatables, kinetic construction, and those world-famous happenings above all, not only in their homeland (Kobe and Osaka) but also in Tokyo, they were essentially modernists. Inspired with the respect to materiality and inventiveness by the leader, Jiro Yshihara, who had been one of the most talented modernist painters since the 1930’s, the group had considerable exchanges with French Informels, American Abstract Expressionists and Italian Spatialists – most members of the Gutai, especially Sadamasa Motonaga and Kazuo Shiraga were ‘informal,’ when they made paintings – but never with artists of surrealist lineage. Metaphysics always escaped the Gutai.”
Merewether, Charles and Rika Iezumi Hiro. Art Anti-
Art Non-Art. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, California. Offset. 2007. 140 pages.
The catalog for the exhibition, Art, Anti-Art, Non-Art Experimentation in the Public Sphere in Postwar Japan, 1950-1970, held at the Getty Research Institute March 6-June 3, 2007. “The Getty Research Institute focuses on works by some of the most prominent of these groups: Experimental Workshop/Jikken Kobo, Gutai, Group Ongaku, Neo Dada, Tokyo Fluxus, Hi Red Center, Vivo, Provoke, and Bikoto.” Drawn from the collections of Jean Brown, Allan Kaprow and David Tudor, among others, “The Research Institute’s selection of signal materials from the period from 1950 to 1970 shows the art of Japan in transition. It seeks to convey a more coherent impression of these artists and to describe the interconnections of groups such as Gutai and Fluxus.” Essays by Charles Merewether (“Disjunctive Modernity: The Practice of Artistic Experimentation in Postwar Japan”) and Reiko Tomii, an oft cited mentor to contemporary Japanese art scholars (“Geijutsu on their Minds: Memorable Words on Anti-Art”), accompany a range of documentary textual and photographic materials, including Gutai from it’s inception to Expo ’70.
Munroe, Alexandra. Japanese Art After 1945: Scream Against the Sky. Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, New York. 1994. 416 pages.
Billing itself as, “the first book ever published in English on the development, identity, and expression of Japanese avant-garde art after 1945, as seen within the dramatic social and political context of postwar and contemporary culture in Japan,” the exhibition catalog for the Guggenheim, SFMOMA and Yokohama Museum exhibition is a significant overview, which brought Gutai to a new level of popular awareness. Exhibition curator Alexandria Munroe contributes several essays to the text, including, “To Challenge the Mid-Summer Sun: The Gutai Group,” a concise yet distinguished essay on Gutai history, broken into sections on “Yoshihara and Postwar Japanese Art,” “The Formative Phase: Yoshihara’s Atelier and the Zero Society,” “Early Gutai,” “Gutai Performance,” “Gutai Painting,” and “The Critical Legacy.” Lamenting the lack of understanding about Gutai, Munroe claims that, “although Yoshihara strove for Gutai’s international recognition, it did not achieve the status abroad of an independent art movement. Rather, its identity was absorbed by the established movements with which it became associated. One of the fallacies of this legacy is that Gutai’s early experiments in more conceptual, minimalist, intermedia, and kinetic art forms were overlooked, and research into Gutai’s affinities with or connections to Fluxus, Body Art, Arte Povera, or Earthworks has yet to be fully explored.” Munroe joins with Ming Tiampo, author of Gutai: Decentering Modernism, in curating the 2013 Guggenheim exhibition, “Splendid Playground,” which should do much to rectify the situation.
Museum of Modern Art, New York. The New Japanese Painting and Sculpture. Doubleday, Garden City, New York. 1966. 116 pages.
An introductory essay by co-curator William S. Lieberman (with Dorothy C. Miller) gives an overview of Japanese cultural history noting the rise of museums of modern art in Japan, and the number of artist associations developed for “moral support.” The “Gutai Association” is among over twenty groups listed. “The exhibition is concerned only with Japanese art of international tendency…If one may predict the future from the past, few can doubt that in the twentieth century, as so often before in her history, Japan will benefit by international contacts and stimuli from abroad, and from her native genius will produce an art distinctively
her own.” Although suffering from the hubris of Eurocentric Modernism, the exhibition, composed of forty-six Japanese artists, traveled to eight venues in the United States, offering an early survey of contemporary postwar Japanese painting and sculpture. Among the forty-six artists selected, those associated with Gutai were Jiro Yoshihara, Sadamasa Montonaga, Kazuo Shiraga, Atsuko Tanaka and Shuji Mukai. Each receives a small biographical sketch with a reproduction of their work.
Nishizawa, Midori. A Visual Essay on Gutai at 32 East 69th Street. Hauser & Wirth, New York, New York. 2012. Thirty pages.
Published on the occasion of the exhibition by the same title from September 12 through October 27, 2012 at Hauser & Wirth New York, the previous home of the Martha Jackson Gallery, site of the first Gutai exhibition in 1958 arranged by Michel Tapié. The catalog contains two essays, “Gutai at 32 East 69th Street,” by curator Midori Nishizawa, and “Gutai: From the Past to the Future,” by Koichi Kawasaki. Former Chief Curator at both the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art and Ashiya City Museum, sites of two major Gutai collections, Kawasaki answers the self-imposed question, “So what is Gutai?” in surprising fashion. “Gutai is, in itself, a work of art by Jiro Yoshihara. Gutai is a work that continues to exist. Despite the distinct characteristics of the various artists in the group, Gutai is Gutai…Fifty years since its founding and its first recognition abroad, Gutai has gained great esteem in the West, having been exhibited with rising frequency over the past twenty years. The unflagging efforts of the group have defied Japanese criticism. Even today, Gutai’s works inspire awe, and are acknowledged as unique art pieces, the likes of which have never been seen before.” Excellent color reproductions of paintings by Mukai, Shiraga, Shimamoto, Yoshihara, Motonaga and others accompany the text. A Gutai chronology prepared by Dr. Hirai Shoichi is included.
Oliva, Achille Bonito, Curator. Shozo Shimamoto: Samurai, Acrobata dello Squardo, 1950-2008. Skira, Milan, Italy. 2008. 143 pages.
An exhibition catalog for a major retrospective dedicated to Gutai artist Shozo Shimamoto at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Villa Croce, Genova, Italy, from November 2008 through March 2009. The exhibition is notable for it’s curation by Achille Bonito Oliva, one of Italy’s leading curators and critics. Unfortunately, his essay suffers from shoddy translation. The catalog also includes an essay by Shimamoto. “For the Banishment of the Paintbrush,” which first appeared in Gutai, Number 6, 1957. “Then there are the objects used by the members of the Gutai group: watering cans, umbrellas, vibrators, abacuses, roller-skates, toys. Feet also or firearms, whatever.” The textual portion of the work concludes with an interview with Shimamoto and a chronological biography. “During the war for us freedom did not exist. In the post-war period we were made free and at the beginning we were a little lost, but we understood the wonder of freedom above all else. Life was full of problems, but freedom is the key to happiness. To be able to express freedom through the world of art has been a great joy.” Texts are accompanied by color reproductions of over sixty works from 1946 through 2008.
Roberts, James. “Painting as Performance.” Art in America, May 1992, pages 113-118, 155.
A popular survey of Gutai activity, notable for the author’s interest in the relationship between the Association’s activities and those of radical calligraphers. “Yet there is another facet to the group’s painted work that is of equal, if not greater importance [to the performative aspect]: its relationship with the Japanese calligraphic tradition and the conscious attempt by Gutai artists to link aspects of that practice with contemporary Western abstraction. This approach to art-making, arising from the particular circumstances and cultural milieu out of which the Gutai group emerged has never been adequately explored.”
Shimamoto, Shozo. AH. Japan Art Press Center. Osaka, Japan. July 1981. 35 Pages.
Includes an essay, “My Own Interpretation of Art Under the Theme of ‘AH’,” with both black and white and color reproductions of works illustrating what the author describes as a refusal or denial of “the expression of authority as seen in works of art not only in Europe but also elsewhere in the world. What inspired me and encourage(d) me most in this effort was ‘Gutai’, whose spirit is embodied in the activities of ‘mail art,’ a form of expression campaigned for by the Artists Union today.” Shimamoto’s works from the late 1940s are reproduced.
Shimamoto, Shozo. Gutai & AU. (Artists Union, Nishinomiya, Japan, 1983). 67 pages.
A written and illustrated record of Shimamoto’s activities in Gutai and AU (Artists Union, Art Unidentified). “We are devoted to a diametrically opposite attitude in life, carrying on dialogues with this attitude by means of mail art and by other means of communication. The present book relates to my own records of ‘Gutai’ and ‘AU,’ and to so many people I have become acquainted with during the course of my activities with the said groups, and at the same time, carries my own subjective presentation of art chronicle.”
Shimamoto, Shozo. Operations Manual. Ryosuke Koen, Osaka, Japan. 1982. (82 pages).
Profiling members of AU, the work includes profile portraits, biographical information, and reproductions of works by several ex-Gutai members (Tadatoshi Fujino, Teruyuki Tsubouchi, Tsuruko Yamazaki, Yasuo Sumi, Saburo Murakami). An untitled ten point painting manifesto by Shimamoto is included (i.e.”1. A picture should be painted without skill.”) A history of AU, and how it relates to Gutai is included. “A. U. (Artists Union) was established by avant garde artists in 1975. We have 500 members at present, and we are engaged in many activities that involve the younger members. Some of them belonged to the Gutai. It took the initiative in art movement in about 1949, and created performed many novel works of art such as, action paintings, pop art, conceptual art, original performance, mail art, modern music, avant garde movies, etc.”).
Shimamoto, Shozo. Shozo Shimamoto Networking. Art Space, Nishinomiya, Japan. 1990. 63 pages.
A visual record of the activities of Shozo Shimamoto spanning his years in Gutai through his involvement in Mail Art. Includes writings by Shimamoto from Lightworks (USA), “Beginnings of Gutai,” and “Gutai,” reprinted from a 1987 issue of Lotta Poetica (Italy). He writes in Lotta Poetica, “We often had meetings under the auspices of Jiro Yoshihara who had been influenced by Mondrian during the war. The aim to have the meetings was to make the works different from those of Mondrian’s.” A chronology of the artist’s activities is also included.
Stiles, Kristine and Peter Selz. Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists’ Writings. University of California Press, Berkeley, California. 1996.
In a section on Performance Art (not the Gestural Abstraction category containing the writings of Pollock, Twombly, Michel Tapié, et al.), Jiro Yoshihara’s, “The Gutai Manifesto,” is reprinted. In the introduction to the Performance Art section, Stiles asserts that, “After World War II, performance by artists emerged almost simultaneously in Japan, Europe, and the United States. The artists who began to use their bodies as the material of visual art repeatedly expressed their goal to bring art practice closer to life in order to increase the experiential immediacy of their work…One of the earliest manifestations of performance art after world War II occurred in Japan, where Jiro Yosahihara (Japan, 1904-72), A gestural, abstract painter and influential teacher, founded the Gutai group (Concrete Group) in 1954…Their use of the body as material, creation of events, emphasis on process over product, and introduction of natural materials and ordinary objects into the art context anticipated aspects of installation art, conceptual art, performance art, and arte povera and was aimed at reinvesting matter with spirit.”
Stimson, Blake and Gregory Sholette, Editors. Collectivism after Modernism: The Art of Social Imagination after 1945. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota. 2007.
The editors collect an array of experts in the still emerging field of art as collective social practice, focusing on collaborative approaches to art making, diverging from the image of the solidary genius. The editor’s introduction states, “While there were plenty of group exhibitions, ersatz and real professional organizations, international conferences and journals, and other developments in the 1950s and 1960s that helped to make the likes of abstract expressionism, happenings, Fluxus, pop art, minimalism, conceptual art, and others over into art-historical categories, none of these brought the question of collective voice to the fore in the same way, non saw collectivization itself as a vital and primary artistic solution, none sought first and foremost to generate a voice that declared its group affiliation, its collectivization, as the measure of its autonomy.” Thus stated, I would argue that Jiro Yoshihara (Gutai) and George Maciunas (Fluxus) probably thought otherwise. Among the essayists contributing texts, Reiko Tomii concentrates on the Japanese experience in, “After the Descent of the Everyday: Japanese Collectivism from Hi Red Center to The Play, 1960-1973.” While the focus is mainly elsewhere, she opens with Gutai. “Where do we begin a study of ‘collectivism after modernism’ in Japan? One possible –and obvious- place is Gutai, arguably the best-known Japanese avant-garde collective in post-1945 world art…Yet Gutai’s works remained primarily those of individuals within a collective environment, rather than those of a collective. In the decade that followed the foundation of Gutai, a new mode of collectivism – that is ‘collaborative collectivism’ – emerged, as anti-Art practitioners increasingly breached the walls of the exhibition hall and departed from the institutional site of art.” This aptly states the situation with Shozo Shimamoto’s post-Gutai founding of the artspace/collective AU in Nishinomiya, serving as a focal point for Japanese international Mail Art practice.
Tapié, Michel and Tore Haga. Continuité et Avant-Garde au Japon (Avant-Garde Art in Japan). Edizioni d”Arte Fratelli Pozzo, Torino, Italy. 1961. (92 pages).
True first published in Italy before the English language edition, “Avant-Garde Art in Japan” (Abrams, New York, 1962). A deluxe showcase for Japanese painters, many associated with Gutai. Those not associated with Gutai include expats Kusama (New York), and Domoto (Paris). Gutai artists include Yoshihara, Kanayama, Murakami, Shiraga, Sumi, Tanaka, Tsubouchi, and Shimamoto. Two essays (in French), by Tapié and Haga, accompany numerous black and white reproductions and over thirty tipped in color reproductions. While Tapié is often taken to task for his attempts to push Gutai painting over performance, there is a notable section, “Activités Group Gutaï,” which photographically documents the group’s outdoor and stage presentations, with brief indications of the physical activity required of the work.
Tapié, Michel and Tore Haga. Avant-Garde Art in Japan. Abrams, New York. 1962. Unpaged.
Essentially the same printing as the earlier Italian edition, with the exception of the essays of Tapié and Haga translated into English. Tapié opens his essay railing against false avant-gardes, both in Europe and Japan. He then attempts a rather awkward examination of the “Oriental” soul. “To begin with, the Oriental is far ahead of us in the practice of abstraction in general, both in his philosophy and in the ‘reading’ of his art.” But to his credit, Tapié realizes his shortcomings and allows Japanese scholar Tore Haga to establish a “climate” for the following presentation of visual work in his essay, “The Japanese Point of View.” Unfortunately, whether due to translation or abundance of adjectives, the text meanders into hyperbole. “And do not our artists – the destroyer-creators of the Gutai Group, Kudo, Onishi, men like Domoto or Imaï – breathe the harsh and invigorating air of this world more freely and more deeply than anyone?” Over the top, and nothing to indicate the importance of Gutai influence on happenings, land art, mail art, cultural networking and other contemporary cultural activities. The excellent reproductions more than make up for it. The work includes “141 reproductions, including 34 hand-tipped, full-color plates.”
Tatsunori, Sakaide. Two and a Half Drops of Bitters: Extraordinary Tales of Murakami Saburo. Seseragi Shuppan, Osaka, Japan. 2012. 322 pages.
The author, the owner of a Bar Metamorphose which sought to emulate Cabaret Voltaire in Nishinomiya, Japan, reminisces about the time he spent with a frequent guest, the Guati artist Saburo Murakami, well known for his “breakthrough” works. The episodic adventures of the artist are told to reveal his singular personality. The work is full of little gems like this one: “One day, I asked Murakami, ‘People talk about Dada and Gutai and Abstract Expressionism, but aren’t they just offshoots of Surrealism?’ He turned his plump face up and, glaring at me, said, ‘No, no, no! You’re totally wrong. Gutai is Gutai, and Surrealism is Surrealism.’” There is also a section of remarks by various people given at Murakami’s Memorial Exhibiton at the bar on January 5, 2006. A “Murakami Saburo Chronology” is also included, accompanied by photographs of the artist’s life and works. In English and Japanese.
Tiampo, Ming. Gutai: Decentering Modernism. University of Chicago Press. 2011. 231 pages.
You’ve waded through my attempt to list sources of information on Gutai, and I appreciate your staying with me. Your patience has paid off. You’ve just struck the motherload. This is the first sustained English language narrative about Gutai, and one couldn’t ask for better or more. It has opened up all sorts of doors for me, especially in broadening my knowledge of Gutai member Shozo Shimamoto, whom I considered a friend for so long, without truly understanding his past and significance. So, I thank Tiampo for this alone – deepening the appreciation of an old friend. Aside from personal gratitude, the field of postwar Japanese art, indeed of Modernism and Post-Modernism (if there is such a distinction), owes the author a debt for her unerring research and a radical shift she proposes for the Modernist canon. “Thus, in addition to being a history of Gutai,” writes Tiampo, “this book is a methodological proposal that suggests a vocabulary for writing a transnational history of modernism…Indeed, it is a call to look beyond the narrow geographical subfields where we are comfortable and to follow the lines of flight that emerge from our objects of study.” Under the author’s auspices, Gutai history becomes not the study of an exotic avant-garde curiosity far from the “centers” of Paris and New York, but critiques the parochialism of modernist centers for their “cultural mercantilism,” draining the natural resources of the periphery for their own purposes. The author argues that being geographically distanced from national and international centers gave Gutai the advantage of creating innovative strategies in long distance aesthetic communication. This accounts for the publishing of Gutai and after making contact with Ray Johnson in 1956, the use of mail art as a potent medium for cross-cultural communication. “Although the group had already begun using the post to disseminate the Gutai journals internationally, Johnson’s mail art may have suggested the possibilities and effects of using the post to distribute original works of art.” It was no only important for Gutai to produce original works, but to have them recognized as such upon a broad stage. Unfortunately, as the author makes clear, when recognition did come, it was grasped without regard to long term prospects, and their message became distorted. This work unscrambles the distortion, making absolutely clear just how profound and prescient Gutai was. Includes a selected bibliography, and the appendixes “Chronology of Gutai Exhibitions, Publications and Events,” “Gutai Artists,” and “Yoshihara Jiro’s Magazine Collections.”
Tiampo, Ming. “Under Each Others Spell”: Gutai and New York. Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, East Hampton, New York. 2009. 39 pages.
Guest Curator Ming Tiampo draws heavily from Ab Ex painter Paul Jenkins collection of Gutai paintings and ephemera, gathered while in residence at the Gutai Pinacotheca in 1964, in forming this exhibition linking Gutai to the New York artworld. Tiampo writes that, “’Under Each Others Spell’: The Gutai and New York tells the story of the Gutai group’s changing relationship with the New York art world from the first audacious letter they sent half-way around the globe to catch the attention of an art world celebrity in 1956, to the groups critically disparaged first New York exhibition in 1958, to the magnetic pull that their legendary experiments and avant-garde space in Osaka exerted on New York artists in the 1960s.” Shozo Shimamoto’s February 6, 1956 letter to Jackson Pollock, seeking an opinion on Gutai magazine and the work described therein, is reproduced, as are letters sent to Jiro Yoshihara by Ray Johnson, whose “method of sending out and publicizing his work stimulated the Gutai members greatly.” Also under discussion is the Fall 1958 Martha Jackson gallery exhibition of Gutai, and New York visitors, such as John Cage and Robert Rauschenberg, to the Gutai Pinacotheca in Osaka. Essays by Tiampo, Tetsuya Oshima (“’Dear Mr. Jackson Pollock’: A Letter from Gutai), David Kaplan (”Tennessee Williams, Jackson Pollock and Gutai”), and a forward by Helen Harrison, director, Pollock-Krasner House and Study center provide the textual content. Yoshihara’s, “Gutai Manifesto,” is also included.
Tomii, Reiko, and McCaffrey, Fergus. Kazuo Shiraga: Six Decades. McCaffrey Fine Art, New York, New York. 2009. Cloth. 94 pages.
Japanese Post-War Art sensei Reiko Tomii’s, “first substantial writing on Gutai,” focus on painter/performer Kazuo Shiraga, whose “Challenging Mud,” she determines to be “…one of the most important works to emerge from pre-war Japan.” An innovative and inquisitive art historian, Tomii recreated the event at MOMA New York on July 23, 2011. In her essay, “Shiriga Paints: Toward a Concrete Discussion,” she delves into the artist’s biography and concentrates on his painting done by foot: first by sliding, then hanging in a sling and later “squeeze” paintings, done while wearing skies. Fergus McCaffrey, Director of the exhibiting gallery, who attended Kyoto University, contributes, “Beyond Transmission Failures: Shiraga in a New Context,” lamenting the lost Life photographs, Tapié’s smothering embrace, and the ill-fated Martha Jackson exhibition, in which critic Dore Ashton rebuked Gutai for “their basic allegiance to easel painting.” McCaffrey places Shiraga’s painting in the context of “Post Abstract Expressionism,” with color reproductions of paintings by Rauschenberg, Klein, Twombly, Bacon and De Kooning, suggesting contemporaries, who like Shiraga, came of age in the fifties. “Writings and Interviews, Selected and translated by Reiko Tomii,” include five selections of Shiraga’s thoughts from 1955 (“What I Think” published in Gutai 2) to 2007 (“On Buddhism”). An illustrated chronology of the artist’s life and his placement in sixty-one public collections follows.
Ukita, Yozo, Editor. AU. Shozo Shimamoto, Nishinomiya, Japan. 1985. 133 pages.
Members of the artist collective AU (Artist’s Union/Art Unidentified), directed by Shozo Shimamoto, are given one or two pages for the reproduction of their work and some biographical information. Includes an essay by Shozo Shimamoto, “Gutai. AU. Mail Art.” He writes, “In 1976, I became a general of AU Secretariat. Tsuruko Yamazaki, Saburo Murakami, Yozo Ukita, Yasuo Sumi, and Ariyuki Tsubouchi from ‘Gutai’ joined us. As for forming a group. I cannot understand why Europeans and Americans do not form groups. Michael Tapié and European artists are not sure that a group would produce fine pieces of art. In AU, however, we believe that a group could show far superior pieces of work than those of individual artists…The fact that we sent the first edition of ‘Gutai’ all over the world in 1955 is the first movement of MAIL ART.”
Warr, Tracey, Editor and Amelia Jones. The Artist’s Body. Phaidon Press, London, England. 2000. 287 pages.
As part of a series on themes and movements, the book focuses on the incorporation of the artists’ body into the work of art. “After the Second World War, during a period of relative prosperity in both Europe and America, artists such as John Cage, Marcel Duchamp, Allan Kaprow, Yves Klein, and in Japan, Kazuo Shiraga and the Gutai group, took advantage of developing non-gallery spaces and alternative ideologies to create process-based, multi-disciplinary work, often using performance – or ‘action’- to express their ideas…In Japan Kazuo Shiraga ‘painted’ his canvases with his feet, literally placing his body in the work.” Broken into various sections representing different approaches to using the body as a medium (“Gesturing Bodies,” “Ritualistic and Transgressive Bodes,” “Body Boundaries,” “Performing Identity,” “Absent bodies,” “Extended and Prosthetic Bodies”), Gutai artists are placed in the “Painting Bodies,” section. After introductory and survey texts by the two editors, the work is given over to documentary photography, which reproduces performative actions by Murakami (“At One Moment Opening Six Holes”), Shiraga (“Challenging Mud”), and Shimamoto (“Making a Painting by throwing bottles of Paint”). The book concludes with a reprinting of historic documentary artists’ texts, including, “The Gutai Manifesto,” by Jiro Yoshihara.
Watkins, Jonathan and Mizuho Kato, Editors. Atsuko Tanaka: The Art of Connecting. Cornerhouse Publications, Manchester, England. 2011. 222 pages.
The exhibition catalog for the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, February-May 2012 presentation, Atsuko Tanaka: The Art of Connecting. Yuko Hasegawa contributes the essay, “Network Paintings: Prophecies of the Present,” the first of four essays in Japanese and English on the artists’ work. “Unlike Western modernist art, which advocated the autonomy of art, Gutai advocated art that conveyed a strong connection with nature and lifestyle. During the initial stage of the Gutai movement – before its members regressed back to Western-style painting – Gutai artists created numerous performances and site specific installations. During this time, the group aimed to produce a new ‘high art’ that was, at the same time, ‘everyday’ art, and indeed succeeded in realizing this aim…Tanaka…used non-physical materials such as blinking lights and sound to enhance and accentuate the presence of these materials in her work. Of particular interest is the highly radical nature of the work produced by the artist between 1953 and 1957 in comparison to the other Gutai members and international avant-garde at the time., as well as the relationship between this body of work and her concepts and ideas.” The work concludes with a detailed chronology and a bibliography of Japanese and foreign sources compiled by Mizuho Kato. The exhibition traveled to England and Spain.
Westgeest, Helen. Zen in the Fifties: Interaction in Art Between East and West. Waanders Publishers, Zwolle, The Netherlands. 1996. 262 pages.
The author quotes a Zen expert as remarking that, “Zen is doing, the becoming one with dynamism. The way of expression is not important.” This seems to fit well with Gutai methodology, and indeed there is a chapter, “The inherent Zen of Japan,” which features a section on Saburo Murakami, Atsuko Tanaka, Akira Kanayama and Kazuo Shiraga, all of whom came to Gutai through their participation in the earlier Zero Group. Shiraga wrote that, “Zero means “nothing: start with nothing, completely original, no artificial meaning. The only meaning is: being natural, by body.” In the author’s examination on the influence of Zen on Western art, it is not surprising that she ponders a question, rather than coming to a conclusion. “The question still has not been answered how Japanese or how Western the works of Zero and Gutai actually were in the fifties. Some curators in Japanese museums of modern art were asked that same question. Their answers varied from ‘very Japanese’ to ‘very Western’, with all the gradations in between. I found a possible explanation for the differing views in the studies I conducted in the West. The Western works often proved to combine developments in the history of painting (in the nineteenth century Japonisme played an important part), the West’s new outlook on the world which was related to the outlook of the Far East, and new sources from Japan, such as Zen. The Western and the Japanese elements had become a homogeneous blend in the course of the fifties, in various works in the West. And a similar process had taken place in Japan…In the course of the twentieth century the artist’s attitude changed, and consciously or subconsciously, he began to mix Western elements with his own cultural heritage, to form a homogeneous whole.”
Yoshimoto, Midori, Ed. “”Expo ’70 and Japanese Art: Dissonant Voices.” Review of Japanese Culture and Society, December 2011. Josai University, Saitama-ken, Japan. Paper. 248 pages.
Special issue of the periodical dealing with the controversies leading up to, events surrounding, and the aftermath of Expo ’70 on Japanese art. Gutai played an important role in this story, leading to a crescendo of their storied history. The fifteen plus contributors (including Reiko Tomii) examine various aspects of the World’ Fair, all of which bring context to Gutai’s participation in the event. Perhaps the most relevant comments on Gutai activity at Expo ’70 come from the editor’s introduction. “It goes without saying that here was a wide spectrum in artists’ attitudes toward taking part in Expo ’70: Some were optimistic and positive while others became critical as the projects developed. The Osaka-based members of the Gutai Art Association were perhaps situated toward the top of this spectrum, devoting themselves almost wholeheartedly to orchestrating multivalent projects…Most of the existing Gutai scholarship considers these works a mere rehashing of Gutai’s past works, dismissing them in favor of Gutai’s early performances, installations, and paintings. According to the art historian Ming Tiampo, whose book on Gutai was recently published, ‘Gutai did not see Expo ’70 as a nationalist stage, but rather as an opportunity to engage with interlocutors from around the world.’ For Gutai and particularly its leader Yoshihara Jiro, ‘Expo ’70 provided a large-scale embodiment of the ‘international common ground’ that Gutai had been building for itself’ since 1955 and it was a perfect occasion to showcase both historic and new works to stress its ‘international contemporaneity.’ Having built on their international standing since the 1950s, it was natural for Gutai to represent the Kansai region and take these important commissions at Expo ’70. There was even a sense of pride in their participation as they had been at the forefront in presenting interactive and performance art to the general public and their work was not limited to fine art connoisseurs.”