Takako Saito

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Takako Saito
Takako Saito

EducationChild Psychology
Known forVisual Art, Artist's Multiples, Installation, Sculpture, Performance,

Takako Saito (斉藤 陽子, Saitō Takako, born 1929) is a Japanese artist closely associated with Fluxus, the international collective of avant-garde artists that was active primarily in the 1960s and 1970s. Saito contributed a number of performances and artworks to the movement, which continue to be exhibited in Fluxus exhibitions to the present day. She was also deeply involved in the production of Fluxus edition works during the height of their production, and worked closely with George Maciunas.

Saito is best known for her special chess sets, which include Spice Chess, but her larger body of work focuses on crafting a variety of objects to be used in open-ended situations that create unexpected social relations. More recent exhibitions, such as the Museum für Gegenwartskunst Siegen's 2017-18 exhibition Takako Saito: You + Me, have focused on the way Saito uses a playful process-based approach focused on the making of objects to blend her artistic practice with the activities and chores of daily life. Despite the fact that this blended approach often results in ambiguous objects that sit between the experimental sentiments of fine art and the practical concerns of design, her works have been collected by major museums and public collections across Europe, the United States, and Japan. The majority of her exhibitions have been held in Europe, where she has traveled and lived since 1968. She currently lives in Düsseldorf in Germany.


Early life and education[edit]

Saito was born in 1929 in Sabae-Shi, Fukui Province in Japan to a wealthy landholding family. As the second daughter among three siblings, she had a relatively free childhood for her position.[1] In her middle school years, during WWII, she and her classmates were put to work in a factory that produced military parachutes. Saito's job was to spin threads into rolls, an activity that bears some resemblance to her later artmaking processes. After the war, the post-WWII land reforms enacted under the GHQ left her family with limited financial resources. When her father died in 1947, her mother became more rigid creating a rift between Saito and her family that would eventually lead her to live abroad.[2]

In 1947, Saito's mother sent her to Tokyo to study psychology at the Japan Women's University, from which she graduated in 1950. She then took up a teaching post at a junior high school in 1951 where she remained until 1954. While teaching, in 1952 she became involved with the Sōzō Biiku (Sōbi), or the 'Creative Art Education' movement.[3] Founded 1952 by Teijirō Kubo, the movement focused on encouraging free will through creative expression and experimentation. Through this movement Saito began studying various artistic media including oil painting, sculpture, printmaking, and watercolor.[2] While attending a summer camp organized by the movement, Saito met Ay-O, an artist actively engaged in avant-garde groups in Japan, such as Demokurāto Bijutsuka Kyōkai (Democratic Artists Association). Through Ay-O, Saito learned about the avant-garde, first in Tokyo, and then, after he moved in 1958, in New York City.[2]

Determined to live independently, Saito left for Hokkaidō in 1960 where she worked in construction for six months, but she soon realized her desire to continue making art. She moved back to Tokyo in 1961 where she explored artmaking more, but found the rigid hierarchies of the Japanese artists associations and arts institutions difficult to deal with as a self-taught member of Sobi. Intrigued by the reports being sent back by Ay-O, Saito also traveled to New York on a working visa in 1963, ostensibly to work as a designer for a textile wholesaler.[2]

New York and Fluxus[edit]

Through Ay-O, Saito met George Maciunas in 1964, and intrigued by the communal activities of Fluxus, she began working with the group. During her time with Fluxus, Saito was deeply involved in the production of Fluxus editions, sometimes as Maciunas' only assistant. For self-trained Saito, this was an opportunity to learn new production techniques and practice her skills at handcrafts, contributing to her later artistic productions.[4] Saito was also briefly involved in the communal Fluxus dinners Maciunas hoped to hold as part of the broader communal ideal of Fluxus. As Fluxus member Mieko Shiomi recalled:

After a while, Maciunas proposed having dinner together every evening. In his opinion, buying food for many was more economical than buying for one... He called it Flux Dinner Commune. So George, Paik, Takako, Shigeko and I started this part-time collective life. For the first few days, the men went shopping and the girls cooked. However we found it inconvenient, because George came back rather late from his office and then often didn't buy what we wanted to cook.... It didn't last long, because we got jobs at night. George was discouraged, but bravely said, "Well, work comes first, dinner second."[5]

Although Saito remained a part of the Fluxus movement throughout the 1960s and '70s, for her it was only one means of exploring her artistic commitment.[4][6] She further expanded her experience through classes at New York University in summer 1964, the Brooklyn Museum Art School from 1964 to 1966, and the Art Students League from 1966 to 1968, although these also served as justification for her continued visa.[3]


Saito left New York in 1968, leading an itinerant lifestyle until 1979. During this time, Saito worked with George Brecht and Robert Filliou in France (1968–72); with Felipe Ehrenberg, David Mayor, and Martha Hellion at Beau Geste Press in England publishing artist's books (1973–75); and with Francesco Conz and Rosanna Chiessi in Italy, creating interactive installations and other works (1975–79).[3] From 1979 to 1983, she taught at the University of Essen, and the income from this job allowed her to launch her own bookmaking venture, Noodle Editions. This came at a fortuitous time in the early 1980s when there was an increasing demand for Fluxus products.[7]

Thus even after leaving New York, Saito continued her Fluxus connections, producing multi-media installations and sculptural work in collaboration with other Fluxus artists such as Robert Filliou, George Brecht, Dorothy Iannone, Gerhard Rühm, Ben Vautier, Dick Higgins and Bob Watts. Saito has contributed pieces to many Fluxus collaborations, including Fluxus 1 (1964) and the Flux Cabinet (1975–77).[6] Saito also maintained contact with Maciunas throughout the 1970s, up until his death.


Since 1978, Saito has been living and working in Düsseldorf. Her move to Dūsseldorf and initial housing in the caretaker's workshop of a student hostel directed by Fluxus collector Erik Andersch allowed her to begin working full-time as an artist.[8] Her later pieces have maintained the Fluxus ideal of eroding the boundaries between performer and viewer, but, as art historian Dieter Daniels argues, play with the traditional idea of the dissolution of authorship by combining obvious craftsmanship of objects with an open-ended collaboration through the use and exchange of these objects.[8] An example of such a work in a more formal exhibition setting is Saito's You + Me Shop:

Saito's You and Me Shop again includes the idea of exchange with the viewer and of collaborative artistic work. In a small shop resembling a market stall, the artist as sales woman offered an arranged selection of those small things or materials which she also used in her objects: dried onion skins, chestnuts, pieces of wood. Here, the interaction with the viewer started with the joint selection, placement and fixation of the offered items on paper plates. It ended with the handing over of the object to the respective participant. [9]

Beyond the gallery setting, however, her practice now extends to the entirety of her living situation. She handmakes her clothing, furniture, and other items for daily use in her Dusseldorf studio, embodying in her daily life a concrete recognition of the labor and craft of living. Daniels notes that while her work is often compared to that of Marcel Duchamp, given Duchamp's focus on the readymade as an escape from labor and his claim for the right to be lazy, Saito comes across as more self-aware of the various forms that labor and craft can take and the relations this investment creates when objects are left available for open exchange.[8]

Aside from solo exhibitions in Düsseldorf, Cologne, Fukui, New York, Kansas, Bremen, Kaunas and Schwerin in recent years, her work has been featured in Re-Imagining Asia at the House of World Cultures in Berlin in 2008 and in Fluxus retrospectives at Museum Ostwall in Dortmund, Germany in 2012–13; the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2010; and the Tate Modern, London in 2008.[10][11][12][13]

Chess sets[edit]

She is perhaps best known for the various special chess sets she has created over the years. These were often included in the Flux Boxes from 1964 onwards, sometimes in uncredited form, and were part of a Fluxus series of game variations of Chess.[14]

George Maciunas was fascinated by Japanese craftsmanship and owned some Japanese boxes. He associated this craftsmanship with Japanese culture, and when he began working with Saito, he was so impressed with her craftmanship, in spite of her self-taught skills, that he asked her to contribute a series of disrupted chess sets to sell in his new Flux shop on Canal Street in Soho. Maciunas was so delighted by Spice Chess in particular that he "even took credit for it on occasion."[15][8] Smell Chess was one of several sets by Saito that used identical vials as chess pieces, requiring users to identify pieces by the vial's contents, identifiable by the sense of smell rather than sight. These were initially produced as part of a Fluxkit in 1965.[16] While many have noted the relation between Duchamp's interest in chess, art historian Claudia Mensch points out that many of the Fluxchess sets deny the zero-sum win-or-lose social dynamics of chess in which Duchamp was engaged, and thereby subvert the "masculinist cold war metaphors" of chess. In Saito's case, she argues this is accomplished by reorienting the experience of chess to combine the analytical with the sensorial.[14] Art historian Natasha Lushetich further expands on this notion, pointing out that once several vials have been opened, "their smells fuse and hang in the air, creating an undifferentiated continuum that makes it next to impossible for the players to identify the pieces, let alone decide on the position they ought to occupy on the board."[17] For Lushetich, the effect is to temporalize the experience of chess play and enhance the material sense of the physical set as well as the action of play. In so doing, she argues that players change their game play strategies and goals, thereby shifting the nature of the social interaction realized through the game set.[16]

Aside from Spice Chess, Saito has produced numerous other chess sets that subvert usual gameplay rules including the following:

  • Nut & Bolt Chess (1964)[18]
  • Grinder Chess (1965)[18]
  • Sound Chess (1965)[18]
  • Weight Chess (1965)[18]
  • Smell Ches (1965)[18]
  • Liquor Chess (1975)[19]
  • Book Chess (1980s)[18]
  • Spielkopf 12 (1987)[19]
  • Bauhaus Chess B (1989)[19]
  • Spiral Schach [weiß] (1989)[19]
  • Hut Schachspeil C (1999)[19]
  • Chess for Rats and Squirrels (2012)[19]

Solo exhibitions[edit]

Galery La Fenêtre, Nice, 1972[3]

Galleria Multipla, Milan, 1975 and 1976[3]

Other Books & So, De Appel, Amsterdam, 1978[3]

Ruhr Universität, Essen, Germany, 1980[3]

Objetkte, Bücher, Schachspiele, Modern Art Galerie, Vienna, 1981[3]

Bücherausstelling, Galerie M. + R. Fricke, Düsseldorf, Germany, 1984[3]

Takako Saito – performance, books and book objects, Galerie Hundertmark, Cologne, Germany, 1986[3]

Takako Saito: Eine Japanerin in Düsseldorf, Objekte, Stadtmuseum, Dusseldorf, 1988[3]

Games, The Emily Harvey Gallery, NY, 1990[3]

0 + 0 + (-1) = my work, Fondazione Mudima, Milan, 1993[3]

Takako’s You and me shop, music shop, newspaper stand, FLUX scoops shop, Galeria Lara Vincy, Paris, 2003, 2009, 2010[3]

Takako Saito – Viel Vergnügen, Kunsthalle Bremen, 2004[3]

Game Fashion Show, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea di Villa Croce, Genoa, 2006[3]

Bücher, Objekte, Schachspiele, Kleiner Raum Clasing & Galerie Etage, Münster, Germany, 2007[3]

Les jeux de 1988–1994 + x, Galerie Lara Vincy, Paris, France, 2009[3]

Les Jeux de 1988–1994 / Les Jeux de 2004-2009 + You and Me, Galerie Lara Vincy, Paris, France, 2010[3]

Play and Connect, Galerie van Gelder / AP, Amsterdam, NL, 2015-16[20]

You + Me, Kelter-Kabinett / Staatliches Museum, Schwerin, Germany, 2016[3]

Takako Saito: der Himmel klingelt, Buchgalerie Mergemeier, Dusseldorf, 2016[3]

Takako Saito: You + Me, Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Siegen, 2017[3]

Takako Saito, CAPC musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux, 2019[3]

Select group exhibitions[3][edit]

Box Show, NY, 1965

FLUXshoe, Exeter, England, 1973 (touring exhibition)

Fluxus, etc.: The Gilbert and Lila Silverman Collection, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, 1984

Marcel Duchamp und die Avantgarde seit 1950, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, 1988

Ubi Fluxus ibi motus, 1990/1962, Biennale di Venezia, Venice, 1990

De Bonnard à Baselitz – Dix ans d’enrichissement du cabinet des estampes 1978–1988, Bibliothèque nationale, Paris, 1992

En el espiritu de Fluxus, Fundacion Antoni Tapies, Barcelona, 1994

Dinge in der Kunst des XX. Jahrhunderts, Haus der Kunst, Munich, 2000

Fluxus und Freunde, Weserburg, Museum für moderne Kunst, Bremen, 2002

Una larga historia con muchos nudos Fluxus en Alemania: 1962 –1994, Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City, 2004

Faites vos jeux! Kunst und Spiel seit Dada, Ausstellungen: Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, Vaduz; Akademie der Künste, Berlin; Museum für Gegenwartskunst Siegen, 2005-06

Fluxus en Alemania, 1962–1994, Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, 2006–07

Re-Imagining Asia, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, 2008

States of Flux, Tate Modern, 2008

Dissonances: Shigeko Kubota, Yayoi Kusama, Yoko Ono, Takako Saito, Mieko Shiomi, Atsuko Tanaka, Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, 2008

Soudain l’été Fluxus, Passage de Retz, Paris, Curator Bernard Blistène, 2009

Experimental Women in Flux, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2010

FLUXUS Kunst für Alle!, Museum Ostwall, Dortmund, Germany, 2012-13

HANS IM GLÜCK – KUNST UND KAPITAL, Lehmbruck Museum, Duisburg, 2014

Making Music Modern: Design for Ear and Eye, Museum of Modern Art, NY, 2014–16

EHF Collection. Fluxus, Concept Art, Mail Art, Emily Harvey Foundation, NY, 2017

Das Loch, Künstlerhaus Bremen, Germany, 2016

Major collections[edit]

Archivio Conz, Berlin[21]

CAPC musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux, France[22]

Fondazione Bonotto, Vincenza, Italy[23]

Musée d’art moderne et contemporain, Saint-Étienne Métropole, France[24]

[mac] musée d’art contemporain, Montreal, Quebec[25]

Musée d’arts de Nantes, France

Centre nationale des arts plastiques, Paris La Défense, France[26]

Musée nationale d’art moderne - Centre Pompidou, Paris, France

Musée d’art modern et contemporain – Strasbourg, France

The British Museum, London, UK

The Museum of Modern Art, NY[27]

MUMOK Wien, Austria[28]

museum FLUXUS+, Potsdam, Germany

ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, Germany[29]

Kunstsammlung Maria und Walter Schnepel, Bremen, Germany

Detroit Institute of Arts (Gilbert B. and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection), MI, US

Getty Research Institute (Archive of Emmett Williams), Los Angeles, US

Itami City Museum of Art, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan

The National Museum of Art Osaka, Japan[30]

Whitney Museum of American Art, NY, US

Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, US

Emily Harvey Foundation, NY, US

Archives of the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Spain[31]

Collection of Artists’ Books at Reed College, Portland, Oregon, US[32]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Sakagami, Shinobu; Morishita, Akihiko (4 October 2015). "日本美術オーラル・ヒストリー・アーカイヴ/斉藤陽子オーラル・ヒストリー". Oral History Archives of Japanese Art. Retrieved 31 December 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  2. ^ a b c d Yoshimoto, Midori (2005). Into Performance: Japanese Women Artists in New York. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. pp. 116–19. ISBN 978-0-8135-3521-0. OCLC 833290748.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x Motard, Alice; Schmidt, Eva; Stahl, Johannes (2018). Takako Saito: Dreams to do. Museum für Gegenwartskunst Siegen; CAPC-Musée d'art contemporain, Bordeaux. pp. 298–99. ISBN 978-3-86442-260-7. OCLC 1079908042.
  4. ^ a b Yoshimoto, Midori (2005). Into Performance: Japanese Women Artists in New York. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press. pp. 119–20. ISBN 0-8135-4105-0. OCLC 133159483.
  5. ^ Quoted in Mr Fluxus, E Williams and A Noel, Thames and Hudson, 1997, p. 129
  6. ^ a b Corris, Michael (2003). "Fluxus". Oxford Art Online. Updated August 1, 2005 and October 30, 2007.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  7. ^ Yoshimoto, Midori (2005). Into Performance: Japanese Women Artists in New York. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press. p. 135. ISBN 0-8135-4105-0. OCLC 133159483.
  8. ^ a b c d Daniels, Dieter (2018). "A Visit to Takako Saito's Workshop". Takako Saito: Dreams to do. Edited by Alice Motard, Eva Schmidt, Johannes Stahl. Museum fūr Gegenwartskunst, Siegen and CAPC-Musée d'art contemporain, Bordeaux. pp. 285–89. ISBN 978-3-86442-260-7. OCLC 1079908042.
  9. ^ "Virtual Museum of Modernism".
  10. ^ Lushetich, Natasha (2011). ""Ludus Populi": The Practice of Nonsense". Theatre Journal. 63 (1): 23–41. ISSN 0192-2882.
  11. ^ "Experimental Women in Flux | MoMA". The Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved 31 December 2021.
  12. ^ Grothe, Nicole; Wettengl, Kurt; Feelisch, Wolfgang; Museum am Ostwall, Sammlung Feelisch, Ausstellung Fluxus - Kunst für Alle! (2013). Fluxus – Kunst für alle!. Heidelberg, Germany: Kehrer. ISBN 978-3-86828-449-2. OCLC 931124122.
  13. ^ Merali, Shaheen (2008). Re-imagining Asia: a thousand years of separation. London: Saqi. ISBN 978-0-86356-653-0. OCLC 551854375.
  14. ^ a b Mesch, Claudia. (Winter 2006). Cold War Games and Postwar Art. Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture 6 (1): unpaginated.
  15. ^ Hendricks, Jon (1988). Fluxus Codex. Detroit, MI: Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection in association with H.N. Abrams, New York. p. 461. ISBN 0-8109-0920-0. OCLC 898831422.
  16. ^ a b Lushetich, Natasha (2011). "Ludus Populi: The Practice of Nonsense". Theatre Journal. 63 (1): 26–28. doi:10.1353/tj.2011.0032. ISSN 1086-332X.
  17. ^ Lushetich, Natasha (2011). "Ludus Populi: The Practice of Nonsense". Theatre Journal. 63 (1): 27. doi:10.1353/tj.2011.0032. ISSN 1086-332X.
  18. ^ a b c d e f Midori, Yoshimoto (2005). Into Performance: Japanese Women Artists in New York. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. pp. 124–128. OCLC 1261925043.
  19. ^ a b c d e f Schmidt, Eva; Motard, Alice; Stahl, Johannes (2018). Takako Saito: Dreams to do (in German, French, and English). Köln: Museum für Gegenwartskunst Siegen and Musée d'art Contemporain de Bordeaux. pp. 40–41. ISBN 978-3-86442-260-7. OCLC 1047775231.
  20. ^ ArtFacts. "Play and Connect | Exhibition". ArtFacts. Retrieved 31 December 2021.
  21. ^ "Takako Saito". Archivio Conz. Retrieved 20 December 2022.
  22. ^ "SAITO Takako". musée d'art contemporain de Bordeaux. Retrieved 20 December 2022.
  23. ^ "Fluxus Collection: Artists: Saito, Takako". Fondazione Bonotto. Retrieved 20 December 2022.
  24. ^ "SAITO Takako". Musée d'art moderne et contemporain, Saint-Étienne métropole. Retrieved 20 December 2022.
  25. ^ "SAITO Takako". musée d'art contemporain. Retrieved 20 December 2022.
  26. ^ "SAITO Takako". Collection du Centre national des arts plastiques. Retrieved 20 December 2022.
  27. ^ "Takako Saito". Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved 20 December 2022.
  28. ^ "Takako Saito". museum moderner kunst stiftung ludwig wien. Retrieved 20 December 2022.
  29. ^ "Takako Saito: Music Book". Zentrum für Kunst und Medien, Karlsruhe. Retrieved 20 December 2022.
  30. ^ "Takako Saito". www.artmuseums.go.jp. Retrieved 20 December 2022.
  31. ^ "Learning & Research: Archive: Saito Takako". MACBA Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona. Retrieved 20 December 2022.
  32. ^ "Artists' Books: Takako Saito". Reed Digital Collections. Retrieved 20 December 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)