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Group Kyushu (九州派, Kyūshū-ha) was an experimental and rambunctious art group that emerged in Japan in the late 1950s as part of a wave of young artists that would go on to change the look of Japanese modern art in the 1960s and 70s and create the avant-garde movement.
Almost none of the members of Group Kyushu were formally trained as artists, and hailing from the southernmost island of Japan (Kyūshū), they were remote from the center of haute culture, Tokyo. Reacting against what they saw as a stifling exhibition system that relied on personal connections and master-disciple relationships, they put great energy into fighting against the various institutions of the art establishment. The rise of the labor union movement, represented by Mitsui Miike, formed the ideological background for the group. Bringing art to the normal working class was one of their main goals. They tried to capture the coarseness and roughness of daily live, especially after the outbreak of the Korean War. The group worked in paint, sculpture and performance. They ripped and burned canvasses, stapled corrugated cardboard, nails, nuts, springs, metal drill shavings, and burlap to their works, assembled all kinds of unwieldy junk assemblages, and were best known for covering much of their work in tar or asphalt. With the advance of urbanisation asphalt was cheap and easy to obtain. It also dried very quickly, which made it a very practical material. Furthermore, the shiny black colour was associated with Miike's coal and the life of workers, which were the main audience Grroup Kyushu wished to connect with. They also occasionally covered their work in urine and excrement, and have the dubious honor of being the first group to ever be forbidden from exhibiting at the famously permissive Yomiuri Independent exhibition (1949–63). During the 1958 Yomiuri Independent Exhibition the Group Kyushu tried to submit Garbage Piece. While packing up for the exhibition, the group members found a pile of garbage in front of their atelier. As a joke they decided to bring the garbage to the exhibition as well, after Kikuhata urinated on it.
Group Kyushu's membership fluctuated a lot over the years, including approximately 25 members all told. Some of the most important figures are (in alphabetical order): Ishibashi Yasuyuki, Ochi Osamu, Kikuhata Mokuma, Sakurai Takami, Mitsuko Tabe, Terada Kenichiro, and Matano Mamoru.
Group Kyushu required a membership fee, but its organization was non-hierarchical. Members discussed and often fought over the direction of the group, which perhaps contributed to frequent factional splits. The Group often produced and signed work collectively.
For art history the group is an essential member of a movement that has come to be called "anti-art." Other groups included in this category are Neo-Dada, Gutai, and Hi-Red-Center. Influenced in various ways by L'Art Informel, these groups and their members worked to foreground material in their work: rather than seeing the art work as representing some remote referent, the material itself and the artists' interaction with it became the main point. The freeing up of gesture was another legacy of L'Art Informel, and the members of Group Kyushu took to it with great verve, throwing, dripping, and breaking material, sometimes destroying the work in the process.
The Group is also one of a large number of avant-garde groups hailing from areas outside Tokyo. They tried to bring art closer to everyday life, by incorporating objects from daily life into their work, and also by exhibiting and performing their work outside on the street for everyone to see. The effort to bring art out into the public and down to street level is a major part of 1960s avant-garde, underground, and anarchist art.
- Fukuoka Museum of Art, Kyushu-ha ten (Group Kyushu Exhibition), exhb. cat. 1988.
- Kuroda Raiji, "Kyushu-ha as a Movement: Descending to the Undersides of Art," in Josai University Review of Japanese Culture and Society Dec. 2005. Trans. Reiko Tomii.