EUROPEAN PRIVATE COLLECTION OF JAPANESE GUTAI ART: GUTAI AS INTERNATIONAL MOVEMENT
We have the privilege to offer in the present sale an exquisite Gutai art collection from a private European collector (Lot 533-551). The works themselves are pieces of a puzzle narrating a borderless cultural appreciation. They demonstrate the groundbreaking vitality and liberated believes of Gutai that captivated this sophisticated European collector. With his discerning vision to avant-garde art, this European collector collaborated directly with prominent artists and held exhibitions for them, including, Hermann Nitsch (B. 1938), John Cage (1912-1992), Joseph Beuys (1921-1986), Yoko Ono (B. 1933), Emmett Williams (1925-2007). In the 1990s, the collector personally met artists such as Takesada Matsutani, Yozo Ukita and Shozo Shimamoto and supported them to hold solo exhibitions in Europe, passing on the belief of cross-cultural exchange which is one of the founding missions of Gutai Art Association. 1 During the late 1940s, when the Gutai Art Association was yet to be established, artists in the Kansai region were already longing for a change in the stagnant Japanese art scene. They would not repeat the old conventions any more. New and vivacious thinking was like a vessel in full speed, prompting dynamic developments in the Japanese art scene in the postwar period. In early 1950s, Kansai region became the platform for young artists to showcase their creative power. Like-minded artists, art critics and supporters assemble together and form art groups to amass their reforming power. In the 1950s, artists who yearned for reform set up various art societies in the Kansai region of Japan. Among these groups were Zero-kai (Zero Society), co-founded by the then 28-year old Shiraga in 1952; Contemporary Art Panel (Genbi) in 1952-1957, of which Jiro Yoshihara was a member; and finally, the Gutai Art Association which was founded by Jiro Yoshihara along with 17 young artists in 1954. In 1955, Zero-kai merged with Gutai. In 1956, Yoshihara expressed his direction clearly in the preface of the first published issue of the Gutai journal:
"We hope to form closer ties with every artistic genre, including children's art , literature, music, dance, film, and theatre, and to receive cooperation on every level to foster a new type of art." 2 Jiro Yoshihara raised a concept of New Art that breaks the boundary of different art media. He encouraged the mingling of various categories and brought the stage and performance together with painting and sculpture. As seen in early creations of Gutai artists such as Kazuo Shiraga, Shozo Shimamoto and Yasuo Sumi, performance, body posture and movement became inseparable elements in their works. One of the entrancing qualities of this new art lies upon their unpredictability. It is an artistic expression that embraces freedom and remains close to the force of life. Just as Jiro Yoshihara proclaimed in the first issue of Gutai," It is our desire to embody the fact that our spirit is free" .3 Shozo Shimamoto named this association 'Gutai'." Gutai is the name made up from two ideograms, the first of which means 'implement', and the second, tai, means 'body/form'. The link between matter and the body is the energy that passes through it: life" .4
The Gutai Art Association was formally established in 1954 in Japan, marking the beginning of a new artistic direction that studies the human movement, remains t rue to the mat erial and explores the undiscovered beauty. They cherish the uncontrollability of improvised art, not unlike the American artist Allan Kaprow who started to study the concept behind Environment and Happening through body performance from around 1958. He had comparable findings and once praised Gutai as pioneering the practice of the happening in Japan 5 In addition, French critic Michel Tapie wrote in his article," Praise for the Gutai Group,"
"I had been proposing a theory and came to Japan to see how the idea was being put into practice. What I found was that the attempts that were being made to develop the idea had already taken a finished form…Humbly, I asked that I might also be accepted into the group as a member." 6 It is evident that no matter it is in Japan or western countries, artists who have witnessed the war all have a firm belief and drive to break off from the old and start anew, propelling avant-garde art movements to thrive globally. Whether it is Gutai, Happening Art, or other post-war art movements, they all marked an important page in the world history of Art. To classify Gutai artists with western conventions and terminologies is not the ultimate goal of our study and retrospect today. However we have the advantage to examine with a holistic world vision and to understand the Post-War global art movement. In this big puzzle, we search for pieces from different regions that belong to the same era and try to understand and sort them systematically. This is also when art becomes a precious mean of narrating human history, ideologies and the state of living.
1 In the 1950s, at a time when international communication was much more difficult than it is today, the Gutai Art Association sought to attract like-minded artists across the world pursuing similar concepts through the dispatch of their Gutai Journal.
2" On the Occasion of Publication," Gutai No. 1, January 1955.
4 Gabriella Dalesio, 'Introduction', Shozo Shimamoto, Between East and West-Life, the Substance of Art, edition Morra, Napel, Italy, 2014, pp. 10-11.
5 Allan Kaprow, Assemblage, Environments & Happenings, Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1966.
6 Soichi Hirai, What's Gutai? (Tokyo: Bijutsu Shuppan-Sha, 2004). 93.