The art movement known as Gutai both preceded and influenced Abstract Expressionism, Fluxus, and Arte Povera. Its artists carried on dialogues with the likes of Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, and Lucio Fontana. Originating as the artist alliance Gutai Art Association, founded in 1954 in Ashiya City, Japan—not an art hub by any means—by the painter Jiro Yoshihara and some 20 other artists, Gutai acted as a post-WWII rebellion against the country's conventional artistic modes. Its credo was to make "art that has never existed before”—Kazuo Shiraga worked with mud, for example, and Atsuko Tanaka made an "Electric Dress" from light bulbs.
To celebrate Gutai’s 50th anniversary, Hauser & Wirth gallery in New York has opened an exhibition called A Visual Essay on Gutai, with more than 30 works from 12 Gutai members spanning six decades. The show opens in the same East 69th Street townhouse where the movement made its stateside debut in 1958, in a show at what was then the Martha Jackson Gallery.
"I think the West is really ready to rediscover Gutai again,” says curator Midori Nishizawa. In February, the Guggenheim will hold the first stateside museum retrospective of the movement. But in the meantime, there’s plenty of intrigue to be found at Hauser & Wirth. "We focused on works that were kind of outside the norm of the movement in order to reintroduce and expand it," says Yuta Nakajima, Nishizawa's U.S. collaborator, pointing to Shiraga's 1965 painting "Green Fan," which eschewed his patented feet-and-ski painting method for a new yardstick application. The show also features a recreation of the mesmerizing 1957 piece "Work,” by the lone female Gutai member Tsuruko Yamazaki, which employs bent tin and colored lights to create an abstraction-in-motion.
The gallery has also published a journal featuring essays and documentary photos in a square, record-sleeve format, in the style of the influential dozen journals published by the Association—the same ones found in Jackson Pollock’s office after his death, Nakajima notes. “Pollock was definitely aware of what was happening." That awareness, at long last, is spreading.
A Visual Essay on Gutai runs through October 27 at Hauser & Wirth New York, 32 East 69th Street.
"Green Fan": courtesy of Hauser & Wirth; "Work" © Tsuruko Yamazaki; courtesy Tsuruko Yamazaki; photo: Keizo Kobashi