Gutai group

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The Gutai group (具体) is the first radical, post-war artistic group in Japan. It was founded in 1954 by the painter Jiro Yoshihara in Osaka, Japan, in response to the reactionary artistic context of the time. This influential group was involved in large-scale multimedia environments, performances, and theatrical events and emphasizes the relationship between body and matter in pursuit of originality.[1] The movement rejected traditional art styles in favor of performative immediacy.[2]

Origin[edit]

Shozo Shimamoto and Jiro Yoshihara founded Gutai together in 1954, and it was Shimamoto who suggested the name Gutai.[3] The kangi used to write 'gu' meaning tool, measures, or a way of doing something, while 'tai' means body.[4] Yoshihara considers it to mean "embodiment" and "concreteness." [5] The group was officially known as Gutai Bijutsu Kyokai (Art Association of Gutai).

Coming about during postwar Japanese reconstruction, Gutai stressed freedom of expression with innovative materials and techniques.[6] Gutai challenged imaginations to invent new notions of what art is with attention on the relationships between body, matter, time, and space. After the war, attitudes regarding cultural exchanging changed amongst nations as the art environment involved great optimism for global collaboration. Since artists were pursuing advances in contemporary art transnationally, the art environment of the time fostered thriving conditions for the Gutai group. For example, with the Treaty of San Francisco in 1951, there was an increase in cultural exchanges between Japan and its new western allies. Gutai artwork began being shown in exhibitions in both American and European cities.[7]

With post-occupation Japan's emphasis on freedom, the United State’s goal was to promote abstract art in order to promote democracy. Like the social reforms of the Allies occupation of Japan after the war, the United States wanted to steer Japan, and other axis nations, away from the more communistic art style of socialist realism.[8] This helped spread Gutai art since it sponsored its creation. One example is the Guggenheim International Award exhibition that begun after the war and tactfully included work from Japan, a former axis state, in order to invite non-western art into the purview of contemporary abstract art as it cooperated with the democratic propaganda.

Yoshihara Jiro was a businessman, self-taught painter who founded Gutai art in 1954 by gathering a group of artistic protégés in Ashiya, Hyōgo. The group shared a gallery space in Osaka. He directed the artists to attempt to do what has never been done before. These early works focused on marks made from bodily movements. Yoshihara’s vision for Gutai was one of internationality, which was very plausible considering the political climate of the time. The worldwide distribution of hundreds of bulletins titled Gutai is perhaps the first proactive international effort done by Yoshihara. The bulletins included avant-garde works and Yoshihara sent subsequent Gutai bulletins to artist like Jackson Pollock, whom Yoshihara greatly admired, with the same aspiration of international recognition. Another one of Gutai’s initial involvements with global extension was in 1963 when Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum's curator Lawrence Alloway chose Gutai art to be represented in its show in order to exemplify the universality of art while to also admire the specificity of its culture. This notion is something that Gutai did indeed want to express. The avant-garde abstract art of the time created a universal language.[9] Gutai engaged in this language yet used its cultural and physical distance to preserve originality.[10] Gutai art challenges the particularity of performance and painting and can be simplified as an intricate combination of the two.[10]

The Gutai group developed a new perspective on individuality and community, which were ideas pertinent to the post war atmosphere. The group developed a "collective spirit of individuality" [11] by emphasizing the importance of the individual in a group context. To the Gutai group, community was essential in fostering the creativity of the individual. In terms of the post war atmosphere, it was common in Japan to believe that community was to blame for enabling such war aggression to happen and therefore it needed to be abolished. This is what inspired Yoshihara to rethink community. The group took on a horizontal system of community as opposed to a hierarchical one. Gutai believed that community was essential to the development of the individual. Gutai viewed individualism as challenging oneself against external forces, such as the psychological forces of fascism, in which the individual becomes a means of asserting freedom. Asserting freedom is how one can prevent totalitarianism from returning. These views were written in articles and shared in the Gutai bulletin. Artistically speaking, the Gutai group maintained their collective identity by having group exhibitions and group journals. The importance of the individual comes into play in the diversity of the artists themselves. The styles and approaches greatly varied with in the group.[12]

The Gutai Manifesto[edit]

In December 1956, Yoshihara wrote the manifesto for Gutai group. The manifesto emphasizes that Gutai art does not alter matter but rather speaks of the delicate interaction between spirit and matter that ultimately enables art to tell a story and possess life and freshness. [13]

Among its preoccupations, the manifesto expresses a fascination with the beauty that arises when things become damaged or decayed. The process of damage or destruction is celebrated as a way of revealing the inner "life" of a given material or object:

"Yet what is interesting in this respect is the novel beauty to be found in works of art and architecture of the past which have changed their appearance due to the damage of time or destruction by disasters in the course of the centuries. This is described as the beauty of decay, but is it not perhaps that beauty which material assumes when it is freed from artificial make-up and reveals its original characteristics? The fact that the ruins receive us warmly and kindly after all, and that they attract us with their cracks and flaking surfaces, could this not really be a sign of the material taking revenge, having recaptured its original life?...." [14]

As stated in the manifesto, Gutai art aspires “to go beyond abstraction” and “to pursue enthusiastically the possibilities of pure creativity.” The goal of Gutai is "that by merging human qualities and materials properties, we can concretely comprehend abstract space.”[citation needed]

The manifesto makes references to many art works to exemplify what Gutai is and is not. The references to non-Gutai art offer ideas of how Gutai art can expand and advance art to new heights while the references to Gutai art offer a brief visualization of how exactly the movement is advancing art to these new heights. Specified in the manifesto, Gutai art is all about experimentation. It welcomes all pursuits whether it be actions, objects, or sounds; Gutai art has no rules.[7]

Method[edit]

Although extremely diverse in nature, all Gutai art highlights the method in which it is made. The process of creation is very essential to the significance of the whole. It is the bodily interaction with the medium that distinguishes Gutai art from other movements. The body was essential yet the body was not prioritized over the materials themselves. It was rather seen as collaborating with the material.[15] Gutai art has included many mediums such as paint, performance, film, light, sound, and other unconventional materials. Attempting to create unprecedented art, many Gutai artists experimented with materials that challenged the boundaries of art. Some artists who challenged the art making method are Saburo Murakami who punctured paper with his body, Atsuko Tanaka who schematically wired alarm bells and wore a dress made of flashing lightbulbs, and Shozo Shimamoto who shot paint from cannons and threw bottles of paint from elevated surfaces. Kazuo Shiraga, the "foot painter," wrestled in cement, gravel, clay, plaster, pebbles, and twigs in what he called "Challenging Mud" and then went on to create works in which he would suspend himself over a canvas and paint with his toes. His work "married theory with practice" [16] which was one of Gutai's aspirations. The mediums used to produce Gutai art had no restrictions.

Significant Works[edit]

Mail Art[edit]

Inspired by 1956 Ray Johnson’s nascent mail art, the Gutai artists utilized nengajo, or New Years postcards, for their mail art. Nengajo were more than just greeting cards. They have long traditional significance and serve as a ritualistic social interaction, which reflects the Gutai goal of giving spirit to the typically inanimate.[citation needed] Motonaga Sadamasa sent what is believed to be the first Gutai nengajõ to Yamazaki Tsuruko in 1956. The card showed green, blue, red, yellow, and black pigments, which were then smudged to animate the markings. The mailing imparted the paintings with life and also pushed the limits of painting in regard to time and space. It also expanded the limits of exhibition spaces, which was another goal of the Gutai group. As stated by Dick Higgins, “There are two ways you can introduce time into a piece: turn it into a performance, or allow it to reveal itself slowly, through the mail.”[citation needed]

At the 11th Gutai Art Exhibition, visitors could pay ten yen to a Gutai Card box to receive a nengajo from one of the Gutai members inside of the box. This was viewed as a performance, not consumerism, and the money went to a children's charity, which furthered the nengajo idea of a gift.[10]

Biennale di Venezia 2009[edit]

Controversy[edit]

Gutai's first American appearance faced many accusations from critics exclaiming that the art was imitating Jackson Pollock. However, Gutai art did not copy from Pollock but rather took what inspiration it needed to be able to address the issue of freedom after the world war in Japan.[17] Yoshihara praised Pollock as the greatest living American painter and admired his pure originality and concrete interpretation of freedom. Yoshihara shared with Pollock a desire to embody nature as opposed to creating representational art. Yoshihara accepted being in the same aesthetic realm as Pollock, however, he aggressively strived to create a distinct style. Prone to the assumption that Japanese artists follow Western artist, Yoshihara insisted Gutai artists create an extremely distinguished style. One thing Yoshihara did to try to avoid derivative accusations was to have his pupils study in his library to learn about contemporary issues so that their work could compete with the art of the center.[18] Gutai work made from bodily processes did find inspiration in Jackson Pollock's drip paintings, yet expanded on these concepts drastically. Applications of the concept were commonly more complicated and theatrical. Gutai was also called Dadaistic in which Yoshihara addressed in the manifesto, "Sometimes, at first glance, we are compared with and mistaken for Dadaism, and we ourselves fully recognize the achievements of Dadaism. But we think differently, in contrast to Dadaism, our work is the result of investigating the possibilities of calling the material to life."[19] Gutai specialist Fergus McCaffrey said, "Shiraga and other members of the Gutai Art Association had their work dismissed as derivative of second-generation Abstract Expressionism when showing at Martha Jackson Gallery in New York in 1958, and it is only recently that we have been able to shake off that terrible misunderstanding.'" [16] Jiro Yoshihara sought to create a genre that was beyond classification in pursuit of true originality despite these earlier accusations.[10]

Influence[edit]

In addition to Yoshihara and Shimamoto, members of the Gutai group included Takesada Matsutani, Sadamasa Motonaga fr:Sadamasa Motonaga, Atsuko Tanaka, Akira Kanayama, and others. A formative influence on the later Fluxus movement, the group was also associated with certain European (particularly French) art world figures such as Georges Mathieu and Michel Tapié, and with tachisme ("art informel"). According to the Tate Gallery's online art glossary, Gutai artists also "created a series of striking works anticipating later Happenings and Performance and Conceptual art." [2] Gutai artists also created works that would now be called installations, inspiring the work of non-Japanese artists such as Allan Kaprow, Nam June Paik, Wolf Vostell, and Conrad Bo, and leading to the later Fluxus network.

The group worked together for 18 years and dissolved after the sudden death of Yoshihara in March 1972.[20]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Barnes, Rachel (2001). The 20th-Century art book. (Reprinted. ed.). London: Phaidon Press. ISBN 0714835420. 
  2. ^ "A Visual Essay on Gutai" 45 (287). Flash Art International. 2012. p. 111. ISSN 0394-1493. 
  3. ^ Mardegan, Andrea (January 2015). "Shozo Shimamoto". Shozo Shimamoto. 
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ Camnitzer, Luis (June 2005). "Atsuko Tanaka and the GUTAI Art Association" 3 (56). Art Nexus. ISSN 0394-1493. 
  6. ^ Tiampo, Ming (2007). "Create what has never been done before! Historicising Gutai Discourses of Originality". ThirdText. pp. 689–706. doi:10.1080/09528820701761335. 
  7. ^ a b Tiampo, Ming; Munroe, Alexandra (2013). Gutai Splendid Playground. New York: Guggenheim Museum Publications. pp. 21–22. ISBN 978-0-89207-489-1. 
  8. ^ Saunders, Frances Stonor. Modern art was CIA's weapon. The Independent. 22 October 1995.
  9. ^ Tiampo, Ming; Munroe, Alexandra (2013). Gutai Splendid Playground. New York: Guggenheim Museum Publications. pp. 21–27. ISBN 978-0-89207-489-1. 
  10. ^ a b c d Tiampo, Ming (2011). Decentering Modernism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 45–46. ISBN 978-0-226-80166-7. 
  11. ^ Tiampo, Ming (2013). "Gutai Chain: The Collective Spirit of Individualism" 21 (2). Positions. pp. 383–415. doi:10.1215/10679847-2018292. 
  12. ^ Tiampo, Ming (2013). "Gutai Chain: The Collective Spirit of Individualism" 21 (2). Positions. pp. 384–393. doi:10.1215/10679847-2018292. 
  13. ^ Alexandra Munroe. All the Landscapes: Gutai’s World. In Gutai: Splendid Playground, pp. 21–43. Exh. cat. New York: Guggenheim Museum, 2013.
  14. ^ http://www.ashiya-web.or.jp/museum/en/103education/nyumon_us/manifest_us.htm
  15. ^ Yoshimoto, Midori (2005). Into Performance: Japanese Women Artists in New York. New York: Rutgers University Press. p. 195. 
  16. ^ a b Baumgardner, Julie (2015-01-28). "An Inventive Postwar Japanese Painter Has His Moment". The New York Times Style Magazine. 
  17. ^ Tiampo, Ming; Munroe, Alexandra (2013). Gutai Splendid Playground. New York: Guggenheim Museum Publications. pp. 25–27. ISBN 978-0-89207-489-1. 
  18. ^ Tiampo, Ming (2011). Decentering Modernism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 47–54. ISBN 978-0-226-80166-7. 
  19. ^ Tiampo, Ming; Munroe, Alexandra (2013). Gutai Splendid Playground. New York: Guggenheim Museum Publications. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-89207-489-1. 
  20. ^ Destroy the Picture. The Museum of Contemporary Art. 2012. p. 204. ISBN 9780847839308. 

General references[edit]

External links[edit]