"Avant-garde art thus revolutionizes the perspective of what beauty means, and at the same time shows what human existence is like". 1 – Shozo Shimamoto
Executed in 1951, Shozo Shimamoto's Work (Lot 538)is one of the radical experiments from his 'Holes' series, which began in 1950. Exceptionally rare, Work precedes the establishment of the avant-garde Gutai group that Shimamoto co-founded in 1954. Always a pioneer, Shimamoto abandoned the norms of his predecessors and created his own artistic rubric, tapping into a previously unexplored aesthetic. Inspired by the accidental rips and tears in the glued newspapers he used instead of canvas during postwar austerity, Shimamoto employed irregular tears and rips in the series to create a complex play of light and shadow across the surface of the canvas. In Work, the artist has created a visual passageway; a hole through which one can traverse the wall. Through Shimamoto's destruction of the two-dimensional surface, Work takes on sculptural qualities – its irregular lines and rough texture highlighting the juxtaposition between destruction and beauty, echoing the wabi-sabi aesthetic of traditional Japanese culture. The damage to the canvas is an effect a paintbrush cannot produce. The beauty of damage advocated in 'Holes' series extended to 'Bottle glass' performance which also began in the 1950s. Such beauty is reminiscent of Japanese aesthetics of wabi-sabi. Wabi and sabi represent a completely new concept: the idea of plain and imperfect beauty. Nothing remains forever in its most flourishing state, but instead, everything begins anew after the end of a cycle. If we recognize this one specific kind of fresh and resplendent beauty, we should also be able to understand the existence of another kind of faded beauty. This traditional Japanese concept of wabi-sabi finds correlates in the requirement of simplicity advocated by Zhuangzi, in the arte povera , the concept of" impoverished art" in Italy in the 1960s — even though wabi-sabi has been rooted in the cultural outlook of Asian people several centuries earlier. Shimamoto's work reflects the philosophy that emphasizes" truth to material" and" the creative process" that , according to Clement Greenberg, typifies all modern art:" the inherent aesthetic qualities of painting grew directly out of the materials and processes of painting itself." 2
Work is a significant milestone in Shimamoto's artistic development, and forms part of the same 1954 collection shown at the Tate Modern, London. From Work, Shimamoto discovered the beauty within chaos and violence, and further extended this concept in his groundbreaking 1956 Bottle Crash performance piece.
1 Gabriella Dalesio, '5th Chaos, Ugly is beautiful', Shozo Shimamoto, Between East and West-Life, the Substance of Art , editioni Morra, Napel, Italy, 2014,
2 Jeffrey Wechsler, 'From Asian Traditions to Modern Expressions: Asian American Artists and Abstraction, 1945-1970'w, Asian Traditions/Modern
Expressions: Asian American Artists and Abstraction, 1945-1970, Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1997, p. 78.