Takeo Yamaguchi (1902-1983)
Takeo Yamaguchi (1902-1983)
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Property from an Important Swiss Private Collection
Takeo Yamaguchi (1902-1983)

Yellow Quadrangle

Takeo Yamaguchi (1902-1983)
Yellow Quadrangle
signed, titled and dated in Japanese (on a label affixed to the reverse)
oil on board
72 x 72 in. (183 x 183 cm.)
Painted in 1959.
Private collection, Japan, circa 1970s
Gifted from the above to the present owner
This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Takeo Yamaguchi Artwork Registration Association.
Sale room notice
Please note that Lot 7 is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Takeo Yamaguchi Artwork Registration Association.

Brought to you by

Jacky Ho
Jacky Ho

Lot Essay

A remarkable work within Takeo Yamaguchi’s oeuvre, Yellow Quadrangle marks his anticipated first appearance in a Christie’s Evening Sale. The largest of his works ever to come to auction, it testifies to the pioneering abstract practice that distinguished the Korean-born Japanese artist within the post-war avant-garde. The work dates from 1959: a triumphant moment that saw Yamaguchi take his place on the global stage. That year, a closely-related painting—Work Yellow (Unstable Square)—was prominently displayed in the grand inaugural exhibition of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, who acquired it for their permanent collection. Created at the height of Yamaguchi’s artistic career, Yellow Quadrangle is an iconic demonstration of his pure, formalist language, marking the culmination of his reflections on minimalist abstraction, structural composition and material perception.

Born in Seoul in Japanese-occupied Korea in 1902, Yamaguchi enrolled in the Western Painting Department at the Tokyo Art School where he developed an interest in Cubism, Constructivism and the European avant-garde. This progressive proclivity drew him to Paris after graduation, where he began to experiment with abstraction. Upon his return to Japan in 1931, Yamaguchi was an active participant in the Nika-Kai Group, one of the most innovative movements in the history of modern Japanese painting. After being drafted to the Pacific War, however, Yamaguchi returned to find that he had lost most of his early works. Caught at an artistic crossroads, he seized the opportunity for a creative clean slate.

By the mid-1950s, Yamaguchi had combined two major post-war Western painterly trends – the thick impasto of Art Informel and the elemental purity of Color Field Painting – to achieve his mature style. With their highly simplistic abstract forms rendered in thick paint over plywood, these works demonstrate an acute sensitivity to color, texture and materiality, focusing on the interplay between flatness and depth as well as the balance of shapes. Such innovations would play a defining role in the evolution of Japanese and Korean avant-garde practices, paving the way for artists such as Lee Ufan and Kim Whanki.

The present work’s palette is reduced to two colors, comprising Yamaguchi’s signature raw yellow ochre against a strong black ink background. The artist related this rich organic color to the soil of Southern China, while the Venetian red he used elsewhere in his practice served as a reminder of the Korean earth. Though minimal at first glance, the overall visual effect is full of complexity. While the geometric shapes have been flattened onto the wooden board, the artist has taken great care in layering several thick coats of paint with a palette knife, creating heavy impasto with an almost sculptural presence.

Although the geometric yellow form is tilted to one side, creating an apparent imbalance, the small black window seemingly hovering away from the pictorial center creates a fragile tension that imbues the composition with a harmonious sense of poise. In addition, the textured surface – with its subtle chromatic variations – generates the illusion of movement within an austere delimited space. Suffused with life, Yellow Quadrangle captures the exquisite formal poetry that brought Yamaguchi to international acclaim during this period, and which would come to define his legacy.

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