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KYUSHU-HA – RADICAL AND INNOVATIVE
Kyushu-ha can be considered one of the most radically innovative of all Post-War Japanese art groups, yet until recently has been largely overlooked. This can be partially explained by the rarity of the work – with the group’s disdain for creating lasting art objects, one of its artists estimated that this small group produced more than one thousand works during its first four years, yet only ninety are believed to remain.1
Kyushu-ha was founded in 1957 by a group of avant-garde artists based in Fukuoka on the island of Kyushu. The central figures of the movement were Takami Sakurai (b. 1928), Osamu Ochi (1936-2015), Mokuma Kikuhata (b. 1935), Mamoru Matano (b. 1914) and Yasuyuki Ishibashi (1930-2001).
The group’s philosophy was to deny existing authority and to bring “art” down into the realm of everyday life, and therefore everyday objects could in turn be elevated to the status of “art”. It stands out when compared to other Post-War art movements as it was heavily concerned with issues that related specifically to Kyushu and its social realities – the ongoing poverty of local miners and farmers in the face of rapid technological modernisation largely centred around Tokyo. They therefore incorporated allusions into their work highlighting the struggles of coal-mining and agriculture by using as their materials discarded tyres, broken pieces of metal machinery, worn scraps of farming tools, old wood and asphalt; a low-tech material used for building roads (symbol of modernisation), but which was produced by mining.
Takami Sakurai served as organiser-in-chief when the artists first gathered in 1957 to exhibit at the Yomiuri Independent Exhibition, and they went on to exhibit every year after, as well as organising their own outdoor exhibitions. Their early work began with paintings loosely based on Art Informel, however by the early 1960s they were producing more sculptures, collages and assemblages of everyday materials, in a manner not dissimilar to the three-dimensional works by artists of the (overtly non-political) Gutai group of the same time.2 In the mid-1960s the association began to weaken and finally ceased its activities altogether in 1968.
Modern Symmetry, 1957 (lot 69) offered here, is an extremely rare work by Takami Sakurai from the first year of the group’s establishment. Painted using asphalt, it is a sister painting to an example in the collection of The Fukuoka Art Museum, also painted in 1957 and titled Gendai no shinmetori (Modern Symmetry), see image on top of opposite page and go to:
1. Thomas R. H. Havens, Radicals and Realists in the Japanese Nonverbal Arts, (Honolulu, 2006), p. 98
2. Ibid p. 100