On the First Gutai Exhibition
We had no particularly sophisticated idea when deciding on the place for our first Gutai exhibition. The decision was rather the result of an accident. The master of Ikebana, Houn Ohara, who had seen our open-air exhibition in Ashiya (situated between Osaka and Kobe) last year, suggested to us to organize such an exhibition in the Ohara house in Tokyo. Consequently, we decided to do so. The members of the Gutai group work together very harmonically, and they often organize mutual activities, but up to that point they had never had an exhibition of their own as a group. It was only in that sense that their own group exhibition in the Ohara house became also the first Gutai exhibition. We opened the exhibition in a relaxed mood and without any feeling of ceremony at all. Our actual discussion on this exhibition became almost a discussion on our forthcoming excursion to Tokyo. The special feature of it was the combined journey of all members of Gutai living in the Kansai area. One could almost compare it to a kindergarten excursion. Several days before the opening of the exhibition Shiraga, Kanayama, Motonaga, Tanaka, Yamazaki, Sumi and Murakami, left for Tokyo to start preparations. These preparations meant, for some of the artists, the production of new works in the place of the exhibition itself. After his arrival in Tokyo Sadamasa Motonaga started out into the Okutama mountains with a rucksack on his back, to collect stones for his work, the coloured stones. On his way he came under suspicion of smuggling foodstuffs, but he returned to Tokyo with almost 60 kg of stones. Saburo Murakami immediately started by stretching thick packaging paper over both sides of a picture frame size no. 200, and one size no. 500, and covering the larger one with goldcoloured varnish. He worked on this all night, without going to sleep. The big frame was to be set up in such a way that it blocked the entrance to the exhibition hall, and on the day of the opening was to be broken through by a person. The small frame was the preparation of a piece of art which was to be created by quickly piercing through the packaging paper. Kazuo Shiraga persuaded a bricklayer to let him have approximately one ton of building clay for walls and piled it up in a heap at the entrance. He kneaded this heap of clay daily in order to give it the required hardness. He painted several timber posts red and set them up to form a scaffolding which looked almost like the legs of an octopus. The clay served to reach a certain result. The timber posts were to be cut with an axe later on. For this purpose he got himself a wonderful example of an axe which he polished every day. One day before the opening of the exhibition I arrived in Tokyo. Many preparations were in their final stage. The arriving works were set up on the ground floor and on the first floor of the Ohara building. What an out-of-this-world sight. At the same time Shiraga and Murakami were about to finish their works. Many people from the press were there with their cameras, too. When Shiraga, with his naked body began to attack the clay as in a duel, it started raining quite hard. He and all the audience were completely soaked. But all were so excited that they did not even notice. Several foreign reporters photographed Shiraga’s face, smeared full of clay, and were themselves lying on their stomachs at the end. Shiraga’s face remained happy and relaxed as though nothing strange had happened. Murakami’s work was completed by his breaking through the packing paper, which made a loud bang. The framework was covered with eight layers of thick packing paper stuck one on top of the other. Hemade six holes by stabbing through the paper at such speed that none of the cameramen got a picture. After he had stabbed the sixth hole, he suffered an attack of amnesia. Later he murmured, “Since then I have been reborn, I am a new person” . Kanayama’s balloon was borrowed, but still quite new. When the balloon was blown up, all those present clapped their hands. One half of the white balloon was beautifully lit in red by the light of a 2-kw bulb in a bell hung up above at an angle. The red electric light influenced the whole room. Yamazaki’s work had round mirrors inserted into it. As each of these mirrors had a different angle, his work flickered as it reflected this red light. My work was really yellow ochre but took on an indescribable red-brown shade in this light. I found this accidental result amusing. Yamazaki’s stack of empty red tin cans turned a mysterious, deep colour in the light and the path-like work by Fujiko Shiraga was now reminiscent of a path to the underworld. Fujiko constructed the path by tearing a strip out of the middle of a piece of paper. She laid down a long wooden board and drew a line with a chisel from one end to the other. Motonaga needed nearly an entire day to hang his vinyl bag up next to the window so that he was satisfied with the result. His work in blocks of stone stood on the ground on a base. His oil painting hung on the wall. He had a whole room for himself and looked satisfied. In the large room on the first floor there was a work by Shozo Shimamoto, which could be entitled “Work for trampling” or “Work for walking over”. It was a work which was intended to be understood by the observer with his whole body with the help of his motor nerves. I can well imagine his satisfied, grinning face every time an observer lost his balance because of an unexpected drop. I think that, as an agent between the person producing and the person feeling, his work of art will mark the beginning of an era. The picture painted by Shiraga with his feet was in the centre of a wall of the big room, opposite the large piece of scarcely treated cloth by Atsuko Tanaka. The work, which had generally been understood as a wild product without any consideration, hanging on this wall now had an aura of classical weight and of tranquillity. Atsuko Tanaka claimed for herself a large wall, about 35 m long. She covered the larger part of it with simple rectangular strips side by side. Whilst the onlooker was confronted with this deep peacefulness, a pink strip of cloth fluttered in the wind outside at the window. A green strip of cloth had a piece of upholstery type of material of the same colour sown on its centre. At the entrance there was the large frame covered with goldcoloured packaging paper already mentioned, by Murakami, which became a tunnel on the opening day. I was honoured with the task of blasting a hole into the paper with my body. This may sound nice, but as a matter of fact I only played the role of a hammer for Murakami. But still, it was a unique experience. The moment I thrust myself through the paper, I heard a terrible bang in my ears, for the layers of paper were stretched tightly like the diaphragm of a large drum, and I felt as if I was in a completely different room. On the right-hand wall beside the entrance there were the eight works by Shizuko Kinoshita which had been created by leaving chemicals to flow. I introduced this work in the last issue of this magazine. It radiates with the beauty of high skill. On the left of the entrance there was an object by Yozo Ukita, fresh and impudent like a sudden appearance; it fitted the place well. In the centre of the room, as seen from the entrance, there was the work by Murakami already mentioned, with the six pierced holes. On the right of it the oil painting by Toshio Yoshida, and the work of colours by Itoko Ono, on the left of it the works by Sumi, Yoshihara and Uemae. After all the works had been installed in their places we realized that, whilst all the paintings gave an impression of modesty, yet each work held its role and posed the spectator questions. For instance the painting by Toshio Yoshida with the applied oil paints, as natural as if it had just been pressed out of the tube. Or the three large paintings, size no. 120, by Michio Yoshihara, which he had quickly made in a train in one night, or the painting by Uemae with oil paints looking like threads of fabric. Nor should such works be overlooked, as that by Itoko Ono, with a strongly emphasized character of batik, or the work by Kasuo Sumi with its mysterious lines created by a vibrator. When we had nearly finished arranging the works we suddenly heard the shrill sounds of bells ringing through the hall. This was the signal that the bell work by Atsuko Tanaka had finally been completed. All those present remained standing still, and their bodies became ears. The sound was jumping around on the two floors just like a living animal. It was late in the night. We walked back and forth through the hall several times. All faces beamed with satisfaction. Everything possible had been done. We, the participants, showed each other our silent agreement that our views had been expressed there concretely. Unfortunately, during the entire period of the exhibition, starting from the first day, with only very rare interruptions, it had been raining. Since the publicity for the exhibition had been only inadequate, and because the exhibition site was at a certain distance from the centre of Tokyo, and therefore unfavourable, few visitors came in the first few days. However, there were a few passionately involved, sympathizing spectators. Most of them were young people. Older colleagues of modern art also expressed their understanding. But sometimes we also met people with a harsh, hostile attitude. Those were people who could only understand modern art in a narrow, pre-existing concept. We, however, attach great importance to creativity and new discoveries. A few famous art critics realized that our exhibition had to be classified under quite a different category than the permanent and ubiquitous exhibitions of modern art. They valued highly the freshness which they felt in the entire exhibition area. But it was a pity we could not find any critic who would have had the courage to try to come to terms with the questions we had put, although with this exhibition we had offered the best opportunity for the most intensive discussions. On the other hand, we were able to hear sympathetic and understanding remarks, touching the central issue of our art, from young art students, or from visitors who, at first sight, had hardly anything to do with modern art. This seemed to us the most important result of the exhibition.
(Published in Gutai no. 4, 1 July 1956)
(Published in Gutai no. 4, 1 July 1956)
On the 2nd Outdoor Exhibition of the Gutai Art Group
At the 2nd Outdoor Exhibition of Gutai Art, which was held in a spacious pine grove in Ashiya City near Kobe last summer, Akira Kanayama showed a work of art which dealt with the shape of footprint. The work was a white vinyl belt with black footprints on it. The length of the belt was over 100 meters. The belt meandered through the whole exhibition site and climbed up a pine tree at the end. Atsuko Tanaka exhibited seven gigantic human figures, which were all quite simple and of the same shape. They did not express any human feeling. They were strange and even ominous. They contained strings of coloured tube-bulbs in their bodies which looked like bony frameworks. The bulbs were lit automatically one after another with intervals quite rhythmically, and the streams of light reminded us of blood circulation. These two works are quite unusual for Gutai artists who have denied natural shape. But it is very interesting that these artists have treated the shape with the simplest and driest ciphers. Undoubtedly it is the shape that appeals to us, but beyond that dispute these works are ambitious and daring, and quite successful under the specific conditions of an outdoor exhibition. The work of Kanayama, that is, hundreds of footprints stamped on the white vinyl belt did not bore the spectators. The vinyl belt could be stretched in any direction with natural case, and the artist’s wit that had made the belt climb up a pine tree at the end gave us a poetic impression. Kanayama’s other work was a signal-bell of railway crossing. He borrowed it from a certain railway company and placed it at the exhibition. Two red signal lights were lit alternately and the bell rang all the time. The rhythm of the bell coincided with that of the electric light in Tanaka’s work and covered the sites somewhat strange atmosphere. Tanaka’s work – that group of seven figures – was entitled Stage Costume, which I found very difficult to explain. The work has a plain connection with her other work in the form of a human figure displayed at an art exhibition sponsored by the Shinko press in Kobe City. Since last April when a reporter for Life magazine carne over to make a report on the artists of the Gutai group, she has been contemplating a series of the strangest costumes in the world and a part of it was apparent in the picture of her work taken for Life. Her idea was inspired by my own plan of organizing an art exhibition on the theatre stage. According to her idea, she plans to show a number of costumes of her own make by wearing them one after another. Among them there are a few covered with plenty of electric bulbs. She displayed two works of this kind at the present outdoor exhibition. One of them with fluorescent tubes in the bodies was quite effective when all seven figures were placed side by side. The other with a lot of ordinary bulbs in the shape of a cross, all of which twinkled slowly and simultaneously, was rather buoyant. The object of her works is costume and not the human figure. But she rather made use of the peculiar effect of human figures for the outdoor exhibition and it was indeed a success as it gave us a sense of freshness. Shozo Shimainoto painted his work on a 30 feet square of red vinyl cloth. Or rather he practically made a hand-made cannon filled with various coloured enamel explode against the vinyl cloth. Among many experimental works produced by means of mechanical power in order to surpass the speed of manual brushes, this was certainly one of the most representative works which displayed the artist’s ardor. Kazuo Shiraga presented a work of different tendency from that of last year. His work was made of mud just like the one displayed at our first exhibition in Tokyo. He covered the mud with transparent vinyl sheet, and the shape reminded us of one of Japanese summer sweets called “Kuzu-manju”. His former lust for action changed to a will to create an uncanny form. It looked like a huge jelly-fish. There were two works and one of them had hair of hemp strings dyed green. At any rate they had too much resemblance to certain living things. Tsuruko Yamasaki put up a scarlet red hard vinyl sheet like a mosquito-net. it gave an impression that she intended to show nothing but “quality” and “mass”. It displayed admirably an equilibrium between the artist’s mind and material. Saburo Murakami made a strange installation which invited us to enter and have a peep at the sky. There was a round textile tent, upon which a zinc cylinder was placed. The inside of the cylinder was painted pink, and when we went into the tent, we could see through the pink cylinder the blue summer sky. The work was just like a trap to catch the nature itself. I felt a poet in it, but at the same time was charmed because the installation did not give any artistic sense. As usual Sadamasa Motonaga dealt with water in his work. His bags filled with coloured water became more complex. His other work was a narrow oblong pool and he let cellophane lanterns float on the water. Their natural movement as the wind blew was fantastic. He revived in his work the beauty of Japan’s traditional lantern floating during midsummer night. The same could be said about the kite made by Takeshi Shibata. At this exhibition there were many works that focused on “light”, and so their effect at night was splendid. The mosquito-net by Yamasaki, for instance, became a huge red lantern at night. Among extraordinarily big works by others, those of Michio Yoshihara were impressive because they were quite small. His three works were all holes one foot deep in the earth and the bottom reflected light about three inches in diameter. Yasuo Sumi displayed almost the same work as that of last year, but his work became more comprehensive and gifted. Toshio Yoshida’s work was a picture in which fragments of mirror were inlaid and this one appeared to be the best among his similar works in the past. As the red mosquito-net by Yamasaki, which was put next to his, moved by the wind, the mirror sparkled fantastically. I mentioned above some of the remarkable works displayed at our second outdoor exhibition. As there were many other works by newcomers, the site was larger than last year. At an outdoor exhibition special consideration must be given to light and weather, but we can act more freely and accomplish what is impossible indoors, resisting the art of salon. So, we are going to repeat this kind of exhibition periodically.
(Published in Gutai no. 5, 1 October 1956)
(Published in Gutai no. 5, 1 October 1956)
The Second Gutai Art Exhibition
Soon after the small piece exhibition of Gutai art, held at Sanseido gallery in Kanda, Tokyo, from the 3rd to the 8th of October last year, we held the 2nd Gutai art exhibition successively from the 11th to the 17th of the same month, at Ohara Hall in Aoyama, the same place where the 1st Gutai exhibition had been held two years ago. On the path fromthe gate to the hall, Shozo Shimamoto’s work, the tunnel made of some red vinyl, was to have been displayed. It was a new attempt to see the beauty of this masterwork, which had been hung from the top of a pine tree at the outdoor exhibition at Ashiya, in details by the counterlight, but to our great regret, it was broken down the night before the opening by the stormy wind. Instead of that, the cloth of “foot-print”, made by Akira Kanayama, which also had given some strange impression at Ashiya outdoor exhibition, was spread on every path, starting from the gate and going about the Hall. This served greatly in creating the unique atmosphere of this exhibition. At the entrance hall, Toshio Yoshida’s work, the India ink strewn by a watering-pot, was put in view. To draw millions of dots in one minute, he chose the fittest way…he brandished the waterpot indifferently from the height of 3 or 4 metres. This way seems very simple, but in trying to imitate, we notice at once the fact that the artist racked his brain for choosing the quality of the paper and the way of dampening it. Beside this work, he has created many other works by the use of a number of holes made by shooting with an air rifle. To this exhibition he sent another work consisting of a lump of paints just put on roughly with a stick. He seems to be seeking to achieve the spread shape and the condensed shape at the same time. To complete Yasuo Sumi’s works his creations were achieved by applying various tools or implements to enamel on backgrounds of dead white or yellow. First, he put the black enamel on and hit it with the ribs of an umbrella; next, he smoothed it with a vibrator; walked upon it in clogs; and at last cleaned his dirty fingers by rubbing them against the edges of the canvas. In addition to this work which had the formal shape of the canvas, there were also some, pasted irregularly upon wire-netting. These had a soiled appearance similar to the messy smudges made by a naughty child… that is to say, a charming dirtiness. Sumi’s works are a somewhat strange art, for when it grows dirtier, it becomes more charming. Lately, his works possess something very rich. Compared with Sumi, Chiyu Uemae is going the completely opposite way. He uses only oil paints that are almost near to the original colour. He fills the canvas by applying dots of beautiful colours. In so doing he seems to put his heart and soul so completely into his creations that they become alive. Toshiko Kinoshita made up her own method pursuing the colours automatically achieved by the merging of chemicals. Fujiko Shiraga, this time expressed her clear spirit. The clear spirit of Fujiko’s mind was shown, this year, in the simple colour, chiefly blue, by some board or cardboard piled up. For about four years Masatoshi Masanobu has been painting with the one colour yellow only. It is a light yellow “tableau” with canvas remaining uncoloured. Sometimes, here and there, shapes resembling dirty spots are found. It is considered to be quite an original idea. Here is a similarity with the work, which was like a white wall, by Sam Francis introduced recently, but there is no imitation of each other. Such a coincidence is interesting. The works by Masanobu are small but massive. Takashi Toyoshima drew an ellipse, using only the uneveness of the paints. The brightness of the paint, like the enamel of china, gives us a fresh impression. In this work, he chose themost suitable material to express his idea. Surely this will become one of his memorable works. Yozo Ukita is trying to make the most generic line, a simple and strange line which can be made only by children. His work has intense tension, but no artificiality which often appears in this kind of work. He discovered a new and wonderful starting point. Itoko Ono introduced an automatic method to dyeing. The singularity of its material causes us to anticipate many discoveries. The man who is trying to make photograph printing, enlarged about a few thousand times, is Yasushi Murano. The oil painting by Kyoichi Mizuguchi was painted thickly with one colour, leaving one of his favourite shapes somewhere else. It is very clear that he has established his unique technique. Sadamasa Motonaga tried the formation of water, his usual material, from a different style this time. He showed us the beauty of the shape of water and the cloths naturally formed by the weight of water. Pouring water into various coloured vinyl cloths, being spread on the square iron frames. The whole construction is rather decorative, but the swaying water, shining by the counterlight from the window, was so beautiful that it never wearied us. His other works, two oil paintings, were both the combination of simple, thick lines and delicate, sharp lines. Although his work is very simple it re- veals to a minimum degree the story, drama and poetry found in the works of Miró. The work by Michio Yoshihara was a painted roll of paper, about 100 metres long. Rolling the paper up we can see the running line and shape, or, if we like to, stop rolling and see any part of it. Winding the handles round and looking at it, we are surprised, sometimes, by a sudden popping out of some strange shape. His work is somewhat “dry” or hard in sense, compared with that of Motonaga, and his characteristic can be found in his unique atmosphere that makes us think of a naughty boy trying to startle us. In effect, the other series of works, that is, the projection of slides, is more successful. The pictures drawn on cellophane, run in front of the glass of the projector, and produce a strange beauty. It was a rather clever but interesting method to project a small effect, by way of recreation, upon the screen and enlarge it to about 50 °— 70 ft. Several slides, made of some wasted colour-films, surprised us with unexpected beauty. Tsuruko Yamazaki exhibited a series of tin-plates. Among them, there were some in their natural form except for a little unevenness and rust. The tin-plates had been coloured last year, but not this time. Her enthusiasm for glittering surfaces such as mirrors or tin-plates proves that she has worked with these for a long time. Whether one tin-plate can be called a work of art or not may be discussed, but it is very clear that, the choice and the indication, according to the quality of her character, brought her to this point. Devotion towards the glittering thing established her individuality. The moment that one tin-plate can be seen so wonderfully, then Tsuruko Yamazaki can stand in a great figure before you and dominate you, saying, “That is mine”. Kazuo Shiraga spread a sheet of paper, 9 feet long and 24 feet wide, on the floor, put many lumps of paint upon it, drew at a stretch with his foot, or rather, glided on it. The movement of the mind became that of the body, the movement of the body became formed and fixed. He just accomplished the most basic element of the art of painting in quite a handy way, using his whole body. The finished work was so wonderful that it might be called orthodox. No other method can make this severe and unique line. That organic and physical line and “material” have the same “quality” as children’s finger paintings. In fact, he drew with his fingers, nails, open hands, feet, and al last he even wrestled with the soil, using the movement of his whole body. With an adult’s grown-up wisdom, ability, scale and physical strength, instead of children’s fingers, he really created his daring painting; its vehement vitality could not be rivalled by another work. If we call Shiraga’s work organic, Shozo Shimamoto’s might be said to have on extremely inorganic character. He also spread an enormous sheet of paper on the floor, set a stone at the centre, then threw a bottle of glass full of lacquer. Mixed with the fragment of the bottle, the lacquer splashed violently on the paper. Repeating this action, he completed the violent and fresh work. Careful observation can discover among the splashes of lacquer, a lot of garbage such as waste yarn, some vegetable seeds, or waste paper, beside the glass, gathering in some strange shape hardly distinguishable, forming the “material” of the work. Both Shiraga and Shimamoto made their works at the Hall itself, on the day before the opening. Before that, Shimamoto had gathered many worn-out articles and packed them into a bottle. I’m sure they must have done a lot of calculating before making these works which were made in one go and could never be recommenced, though both produced their work simply and unconcernedly in about five or ten minutes. Shimamoto did not work with a mere haphazard plan, either. His mechanical works, made in a moment, using motor or utilizing explosive gas, are the most intense phase which matter itself can show. He is a magician who makes matter shout! Saburo Murakami also is trying to express violence like an explosion. He tore paper through with his whole strength. The hole in the paper and its shape are both beautiful. As the physical pleasure, felt by tearing paper, and the natural shape of the paper have no relationship with the world of art, he must have been tempted to make this work. This time, he pasted several pieces of strong paper on ten or more frames arranged them in a line vertically, and ran through them, frightfully like a trajectory of a large shot. He always tries insatiably to discover something new. Anyway, it was the frame of the concept of art that he tore through so bravely. Maybe, we cannot call this work “art”. We don’t know whether it can be an art or not, either. But, anyhow, every discovery is such kind of thing. We must think it over with him. He exhibited two oil paintings beside, small but original. Though consisting only of a high heap of oil colour, they themselves signify some intense feeling. It is impossible to call Akira Kanayama “intense”. Precise calculation and order seem to be his supporter. Nevertheless, his thought is always turning to the unknown, and productive action is done boldly. For this exhibition, he made a transformed balloon and drew many dots upon it. When it was pumped full of air, it swayed like a living creature. It is a fresh and shocking spectacle. Some times we felt as if some creature were living in the Hall with us. However, the orderly uprightness of this work is common to his other work, which looks like a coloured grave. Atsuko Tanaka exhibited a work made with tubular electric bulbs in a row; the same at the outdoor exhibition. A man can enter the inside of wearing like a costume and walk. Its strange beauty made our eyes open wide when, on some occasion, the artist herself, putting that costume on, walked about the Hall. Every bulb of various kinds were lighting and going out irregularly. No easier beauty than this would exist, and no other art, that doesn’t come under the concept of art like this, might be found, I think. This thing might be said also…that, there is almost no example like the theme called “Costume” that was made of such pitilessness and useless objects like this. Kimiko Ohara has made a wrist-ring with wool brush inside. It is, at a glimpse, “dadaic”, but the perusing to the touching is interesting. Koichi Nakahashi’s work is, to say, the essence of the adhesiveness of oil painting. The works by Noboru Sakamitsu, Yukiyo Hara, Ken Shibata, Motosuke Tsutsui, Seiichi Sato, and Miyoko Hirai are all remarkable, but it is our regret that these revealed little of the will of these artists.
(Published in Gutai no. 6, 1 April 1957)
(Published in Gutai no. 6, 1 April 1957)
Protocol of the Third Gutai Exhibition
The third Gutai exhibition was held in Kyoto, and again the works shown there raised many questions. In this exhibition Akira Kanayama showed a series of curious works of many running inorganic lines. These works shown by Kanayama this time transmitted a strong sensation of coldness, although I feel works created by an automatic method normally show an inner tension and heat. The reason for this was that he had had his entire work painted completely by a device. Among toys, like model tanks and model vehicles, there are some which suddenly change direction after a brief forward movement. Kanayama discovered this toy at a sales stand in a department store, and he bought a few mini tanks. At home he tried them out by letting them move about with bottles tied to them which were filled with water-proof ink. The mechanically controlled changes of direction resulted in unexpected and unlimited possibilities. After several tests he had constructed a device which was an enlarged version of the toy. Then he left the device to run, filled with paints. In this way his work, “larger than no. 1000”, was created. This is literally a painter-less painting. As long as the batteries do not run empty, as long as the device keeps moving and drawing lines, the artist may go out, or take his nap. These lines are not necessarily arbitrary lines. These lines are only drawn by virtue of mechanical laws, but in doing so they show unlimited diversity. This operation may be something like a natural phenomenon. Kanayama got the device moving like a creator. However, while a creator leaves his creation to itself, Kanayama stops his device whenever he thinks fit. Jackson Pollock did not rely on chance, or so it is popularly believed. But Pollock thought chance was very important. This is something I esteem highly in him. In the history of art Pollock has firmly established automatism, until then unprecedented. In principle his painting may be painted by anybody, but he secured for himself the patent right for the method of manufacture. In the world of art, the artist himself has to have himself registered by society. The artist casts his keen eye over all methods by which one can create a work, but this artist is a unique individual not to be copied by anybody. This is how the relationship between the artist and his work comes about. Kanayama went even further down the road marked out by Pollock. I think it is amusing that a device discovered by an artist, together with its effect, creates a painting. The works by Shozo Shimamoto can be divided into two groups. One group works with cannons, the other consisting of sheet metal plates with holes in them. As I have already reported, the cannon works were created by filling lacquer into the barrel of the cannon, which was fired by an acetylene explosion. By this method he has created numerous works in a moment. The impression of these works was tremendous and overwhelming. Here and there there was something inexplicable about the work, something kept back. The canvas was torn, the paint had run. His work was based on the highest application of chance. The artist’s hands painted not one single spot on the canvas. In this respect, namely that a work was created by a device absolutely arbitrarily, Shimamoto’s work can be compared to that of Kanayama, but there is a tremendous difference in the quality which is specific for each of them. This is where the artist’s existence is expressed. Shimamoto’s work Sheet Metal with Holes can be compared as such to the works of the Italian artist Fontana, but the works of these two artists radiate something very different. Fontana’s works have an elegant snobbish effect, at least at first sight. How dirty Shimamoto’s work looks in contrast to it! As far as dirt is concerned, the works by Yasuo Sumi went even one step further. One must be careful about comparing the works by Sumi to those of Shimamoto, because of the comparable quality of dirtiness. But I believe that after a short while the originality of the two artists comes clearly out into the foreground. Lately Shimamoto has shown more and more creative flair in his work. Therefore, there is much to be expected from him. This year Saburo Murakami has moved from his work with pierced paper walls to work with shredded paints. These paintcracks were caused intentionally, and they were so strong in their sharpness that one could hardly speak of cracks. The paints were so loosely attached to the canvas that they threatened to fall off at any moment. One canvas, larger than size 500, was covered with peeling paint – this was an indescribable and tremendous object. Nothing like that has existed before. We must watch how it will develop further. This time Kazuo Shiraga presented five oil paintings, too, size 200, painted with his feet. Formerly he painted works with his feet only once, now two or even several times on top of each other. The work won in weight and complexity. It looked as if he had piled up all the experiences gained in his works. One could say that he compressed his abilities inside, instead of expanding them to the outside. He showed a clear development. Tsuruko Yamazaki continued doggedly working with tinplated iron sheet metal. The elevations and cavities of the surface had become so complex, and in addition they were illuminated by colours (this work developed further into a cinema work, and it was shown on the stage). Together with the above-mentioned work by Yamazaki, the light-ornamented stage costume was shown in one room by Atsuko Tanaka. They created an unusual atmosphere. The oil painting by Sadamasa Motonaga with its extremely simple shapes, and the work by Toshio Yoshida which was created automatically by paint spray in black and white, seem to have proven, both of them, that such works can spring from Japanese soil.
(Published in Gutai no. 7, 15 July 1957)
(Published in Gutai no. 7, 15 July 1957)
Gutai Art on the Stage
Gutai art is always searching for a possibility to produce a fresh, previously unexplored beauty. In this search, all conceivable perspectives are considered and all possible methods and materials are examined and used. Nor are flat surfaces and three-dimensional bodies the only possibilities investigated. Liquids, solid matter, gases, noises and tones, even elasticity are all used as material. Now we are presenting works in a form which uses a stage and includes the time dimension. We are convinced that these works, and the form in which they are presented, will be revolutionary for the whole world – whether East or West. I doubt whether any work using a stage has ever yet been regarded as a work of art. Certainly art has played an important role on the stage. Yet it has always been rather subordinate and this was considered to be her fate. In this project, all the artists of the Gutai art society have treated the stage as an important component of their own works. They have all gone one step beyond the conventional notion of art and have tried to grapple with a particular space, the stage and its functions, with the problems of acoustics, lighting, the time dimension, etc., independently and in a full confrontation. The Gutai art society has been bold and decisive in establishing the avant-garde movement and has continually raised new questions. This will certainly be the case again this time and the project will raise new questions for discussion both in the field of art and in connection with the stage. The idea came to me the first time last summer at the grounds of the open-air exhibition. It was certainly adventurous to get away from the conventional idea that a presentation could only take place in a closed exhibition room inside a building, and to step out into a huge area under the open skies. The valuable experience gained fighting the difficulties we met there seemed to have given the artists’ pioneer spirit an important boost. From then on the stage concept was adopted as the next step in our plans. However, putting this concept into practice involved very grave problems and very considerable decisions had to be made before the plan could become reality. More than two years passed and during this time the concept was thought through and worked on time and time again. Time passed, but eventually the whole concept was complete. It was about this time that Shozo Shimamoto’s music was finished. Atsuko Tanaka’s Stage Dress which had really been made for this stage exhibition, had already been shown a year earlier, after the open-air exhibition, in other exhibitions. The work in smoke by Sadamasa Motonaga was also created a year earlier, but as it had been considered to be much more suitable for the stage, it had not as yet been shown. This also proves very clearly that the present event has in no way been rushed together because of a sudden idea. It is also very evident that the slides which Michio Yoshihara has made over a period or the colour films which Tsuruko Yamazaki attempted for the first time for this project are better suited for display on a stage. But it was not only that; the basic idea of a straight, free fight with the stage was also put into practice. For example, Kazuo Shiraga appeared with a mask and presented mostly human movements with his own body, or Akira Kanayama created an enormous work of art with a balloon which almost completely filled the stage. A great variety of presentations were offered. Apart from his very original music, Shozo Shimamoto also showed the union of very strong feelings by means of a very simple stage structure, simple human movements and by the destruction of objects. Toshio Yoshida aimed at the coincidental effects of shadows projected at the horizon with lighting and stage machinery. The works shown include some by Saburo Murakami, Yasuo Sumi or Koichi Nakahashi which give the impression that they are only showing their own automatic creative processes as usual. However, it was not at all the intention to ex- pose these creative processes to the public eye, the works are fully intended to be shown and seen on the stage. None of these works fit into any category of earlier stage art. In the last few years stage art has suddenly been propelled forward from within by the problems of modern times, this venture of the Gutai art society was developed on the stage. We are very pleased if, from the severe pressure of the promise, of technology, of fiction and of the romantic, we are able to make a contribution to the fresh human spirit. • Work 1. Kazuo Shiraga At the front of the stage there is a white wall surface. In front of the wall red painted sticks have been lined up tidily at regular intervals. However, starting at one end, one stick after the other starts to fall over. The centre of the wall is torn apart and a human figure appears climbing out of the wall onto the stage, dressed in a strange red costume with a red mask. That is the artist himself. With his very long arms he makes wonderful arcs. Then he takes off his costume and shoots arrows at the wall. A second actor appears, similarly clothed, and they both shoot arrows. After this has finished, the artist himself stabs at the red sticks and at various points in the wall. The surface of the wall, now covered with arrows and sticks is illuminated by stage lights for a while. Music: big drum. • Work 2. Tsuruko Yamazaki This work of art is a film. The unevenness of the metal plates which this woman artist has been producing for several years show a fluid movement in the coloured rays of light. Although produced entirely separately from this work, Shozo Shimamoto’s taped music creates a wonderful effect. • Work 3. Shozo Shimamoto The stage is completely dark. From above a glass ball illuminated by an electric lamp is lowered. It is broken into pieces with force. It is dark again, a white stick is lowered. The point is broken off. Innumerable ping-pong balls fly around on the stage. Then a box is smashed to pieces. Paper snow flies around everywhere. No sound. • Work 4. Koichi Nakahashi In the centre of the stage there is a large box covered in transparent plastic. The back wall of the box is white. Together with two other persons, the artist throws balls soaked in various coloured paints at this wall. • Work 5. Yasuo Sumi In the same box. Back lighting. Rapidly dissolved coloured water is poured with a ladle on the transparent front wall. One gets the feeling that the paint splashes will reach the audience. That is repeated with various coloured waters, whereby the body of the artist is completely coloured with the paint. The music was created by the artist himself. Gutai music. • Work 6. Akira Kanayama A crumpled white plastic balloon lies spread on the stage. The artist and his assistant appear together, both with a pump in their hands. They start blowing up the balloon al the same time. The music starts. It is by Shozo Shimamoto and as monotonous as breathing. The balloon is blown up to such a size that it fills the entire stage. Accompanied by the spotlight, the balloon turns. On the rear side of the balloon, a linear picture produced by the artist with a moving toy appears. The balloon turns again and then suddenly starts to shrivel up again. The music changes and becomes a permanent high tone. The entire area of the balloon is illuminated in deep red from the inside and gradually disappears. • Work 7. Jiro Yoshihara The stage is completely dark. Every now and again a soft gleam of light appears from a torch – human voices, sounds. When the stage is then illuminated, it is empty. • Work 8. Michio Yoshihara Large and small objects are lined up on the revolving stage. With the help of a spotlight and the revolving movements they throw complicated shadows on the horizon. • Work 9. Toshio Yoshida Various objects large and small placed side by side move on a revolving stage. There are spotlights in front that give complicated shadows in a horizontal effect. • Work 10. Saburo Murakami The artist stands at the edge of a paravent covered completely with packing paper. He moves slowly, stroking his hand over the surface of the paravent towards the other edge. The spotlight is trained on him. Suddenly he raises his fist, swings it up and strikes holes in the paravent. With a stick he even breaks up the bars. Suddenly the paravent is illuminated from the side by a spotlight. Strangely complicated shadows spread over the entire stage. • Work 1l. Atsuko Tanaka A huge red dress hangs in the stage centre. Its sleeves stretch out and seem almost to reach both side walls of the stage. Two little yellow feet peep out under the dress. Then the artist, dressed in a green costume steps out from behind the huge dress by lifting up its train. She quickly tears off her clothes. As she does this the colour and shape of the clothes change to a pink-coloured dress. Finally into a slim-fitting body-costume and then that into a suit. There are little lights fixed on the body-costume. The stage is in darkness. From the right a human figure covered all over with flashing coloured lights appears on the stage. Then the curtain at the back of the stage opens and a large cross appears. Human figures, also dressed in costumes with flashing lights enter from the sides of the stage. The artist herself also appears by flashing her little lights. • Work 12. Sadamasa Motonaga As the curtain rises, smoke hangs (above the stage). Brilliant coloured lighting. Soon two smoke rings are shot up. Each time there is a rumbling noise. One after another rings of smoke in various colours are shot up and waft slowly over the audience.
(Published in Gutai no. 7, 15 July 1957)
(Published in Gutai no. 7, 15 July 1957)
Our Way Together with Michel Tapié
Even before he came to Japan, Michel Tapié knew us from the Gutai art journal and showed great interest in our activities. In his contribution in today’s special issue he has given Gutai art sound aesthetic principles. These are the result of many years of experience as the leading critic of the movement for “another art”. For us there is no greater pleasure than that he should be the first to declare to the world the legitimacy of our adventure and the quality which our works have attained. His splendid essay will obtain for our activities their rightful place on an international level and will light our way on our exciting path from which we would not want to stray. Michel Tapié in Osaka… these were days of celebration and great joy. All our members wanted to show him their work. We discussed the future development of Gutai with him until far into the night. He encouraged the artists, every one of us, with great sincerity. Michel Tapié lives together with us and today we can announce with great pleasure that he has become one of us and is now a member of the Gutai group. The only way in which we can thank him for his generous participation and wonderful friendship is by continuing our way into the future. Finally I should not want to forget to thank Domoto Hisao, Koga Toru and Imai Toshimitsu for their kind help.
(Published in Gutai no. 8, 29 September 1957)
(Published in Gutai no. 8, 29 September 1957)
The International Art of a New Era
I have cherished for a long time the desire to have one day a grand international exhibition of the works of truly “actual” contemporary artists. It gives me the greatest pleasure to see this idea now crystallized into a fact. The International Art of a New Era under the auspices of The Press Sankei as one of the events of the Osaka International Festival. The credit for making this show possible has to go before anyone else to Mr Michel Tapié, to his determination and decision which come from his unshackled insight. He has made this selection on a worldwide scale, which no one but Mr Michel Tapié could ever do, and he has taken pains to make the show genuinely representative. When my desire to show the works of the Informel, which he advocates, with those of our Gutai group, which interests me, was revealed to Mr Tapié, through my friend in Paris, Mr Hisao Domoto last spring, he at once tentatively agreed. He had known our works through the medium of our Gutai magazine and already had a keen interest in them. His decision to have the show was confirmed when he came to Japan last autumn, and took such great pains which have now borne rich fruit. Although his contact with us lasted but a few weeks, he realized by his personal contact with our works that our Gutai art was not different from “l’art autre” of which he is an advocate. We on our part were deeply moved by his great insight, by the depth of his thinking, and by his high principles. We were so touched with sympathy, which reached beyond racial differences and boundaries, for the works of those artists he advocates, that we could hardly resist actually embracing them! Five years have now elapsed since the formal start of the Gutai Art Association. Young artists of this group have continued to grow in spite of lack of understanding, silent contempt, jeers and harsh criticism. The advice and encouragement I have given the artists, who most earnestly express themselves in this form of modern art, seems to have been rewarded far more than I hoped. To those young students of art who, following a state of national despondency after the war, began to gather at my atelier, I have been a teacher who teaches nothing. They have been able to find their respective ways by themselves. My role, if anything, has been to introduce to them one new form of manifestation after another, which I have been able to think out. Such forms of manifestation as an outdoor show over a vast area under blue sky, as well as an exhibition using a stage, seem to have greatly stimulated their imagination to action, and to have helped deepen their confidence in their abilities to formulate and execute to the extent of their talents. The manifestation by our group, including of course the exhibitions in the ordinary form, have created an extraordinary atmosphere… full of unmatched vitalities… but strangely enough, there was something about it like a limpid quietude, without any contradiction. We have been criticized very often, as being “dada” but we think we are not simply “dadaist”. I have not been able to understand the attitude of those Japanese critics, who decline even to touch these fresh, unspoiled fruits we have to offer. That we are carrying through with confidence has been proved by the fact that Mr Tapié has visited us here in Japan. I wish to make it clear that Mr Michel Tapié is the first critic in our outside this country, to take the art of Gutai in earnest. He showed keen interest in the works of the group’s prominent members beginning with the occasion last year, when he saw them for the first time at my house in Osaka, he, together with Mr Mathieu who was also in Japan at that time. It was really quite amazing. We opened the Tokyo show in great haste during his stay at that time. He surprised us by a visit, during an all-night preparation for the show, at two o’- clock in the morning. Moreover, in all of these three days, until the very last day of his stay in Japan, he would spend most of his hours at the show, not leaving the hall. I realize meanwhile, that the words he utters during such hours are very significant; they could not but deepen our confidence in him. We, Gutai Group is now holding an epoch-making Art Exhibition of the East and West, under the auspices of Mr Tapié who is now in Japan again. On the other hand, it is decided that an exhibition of our Gutai Group’s Works will held at New York. It is our great pleasure that these exhibitions would provide a stimulus to a broader international exchange of new arts throughout the world.
(Published in Gutai no. 9, 12 April 1958)
(Published in Gutai no. 9, 12 April 1958)
The International Sky Festival
There was a dream to have an art exhibition in the sky – I liked to think of this sort of thing – But realization came with the enthusiasm and fervour of Mr Michel Tapié. At the same time success of the show was due to the immediate co-operation of each invited artist from Europe, America and Japan and of cause to the members of the Gutai group who worked at enlarging the various works in the minimum of time. The International Sky Festival was held from the roof of Takashimaya Department Store in connection with the showing of the 9th Gutai Exhibition on display at the same moment, made possible by the co-operation of the store. Each day’s combination of the international artists created a variety of impressive effects, even more exciting than previously anticipated. High, trembling, swaying, low, sometimes leaning on the strong wind… until at last one of them flew away and never returned. We experienced again the first thrills of kite flying, reminding Mr Tapié and ourselves of our childhood endeavours in this direction. The only regret is that it was not possible for all the exhibiting artists to be together to share this dramatic moment of seeing their works sailing in the vast sky.
(Published in Gutai no. 11, 11 November 1960)
(Published in Gutai no. 11, 11 November 1960)
Ten Years of Gutai
The Gutai exhibition is now being shown for the tenth time, and it made me realize that it has been ten years since we founded the Gutai group, although the name Gutai was only given to it about three years later. I am surprised that, without wearying, we continued the group’s activities during the whole time. By giving it the name Gutai, we were taking up a suggestion from Shozo Shimamoto. The reason may have been that the word Gutai as a symbol looked attractive and had a beautiful sound. Of course, another reason may have been that it was a suitable word, giving concrete expression to the contents. This group has, as the name shows, something carefree about it. Although ten years are usually a long time, they have gone by quickly. We have been extremely busy in every respect. We organized a series of open-air exhibitions in quick succession. The so-called “Gutai Exhibition on Stage” was even presented three times a year, and this in two successive years. In parallel there were often exhibitions of the usual type. We organized them two or three times a year. Although I myself never called the activities of our group “Dadaism”, they were initially seen as such by the critics, and due to being allegedly Dadaistic, they were thought to be just as uninteresting; and later on were called uninteresting again because of the lack of Dadaism. At any event, whether our activity is Dadaism or not, the fact remains that a passionate energy is expressed concretely in a creative form. When I visited Europe and the United States a few years ago, I was able to see there also that our “exhibition on the stage” had been a first experiment worldwide. The film I showed there gave great joy to all those present who were seriously interested in progress in art. After we had made the acquaintance of Michel Tapié, who had seen an issue of the magazine Gutai which I had sent to my good friend Hisao Domoto, Gutai was suddenly included in international activities. “The world exhibition of new pictures”, planned jointly by Tapié and ourselves and shown within the scope of the first “Osaka International Festival”, was rich in content and an exhibition of great style which has remained unique until today. Then the Gutai exhibitions were shown one after the other in New York, Turin and other cities throughout the world. Soon – probably in the next issue of the magazine – I will summarize a retrospective on these international activities of Gutai, but in any case we must be grateful to Tapié for his work as an intermediary. He travels all over the world in order to find new pictures of good quality and he advocates their values vehemently. Up to now I have never found an art critic as passionate as he. My full respect goes to Michel Tapié, who unrestrainedly stands for a work when he is convinced that it is good, while there are many critics who talk about seemingly believable theories but, when confronted with new appearances in art, do not express strict convictions. We have always done our utmost not to imitate, but to find our own way. Really, this should be a perfectly normal attitude to have towards art, and so we feel particularly sad when we view the contemporary Japanese art scene, where this normal attitude is regarded as abnormal. In spite of insensitive ignorance or even contempt from some quarters, we have received rapidly increasing support both within Japan and abroad. Today we believe that the Gutai group has produced many artists of international standing. Our assumption has, to a certain extent, been fulfilled. Since the foundation of our group I have always maintained that the work of each individual member is more important than that of the group. Although some members have harvested a great deal of success, they do not want to leave the group. Thus this unusual, freely-formed group still exists today. And I believe that through their firm and mutual trust the members will continue to achieve much in the future.
(Published in Gutai no. 12, 1 May 1961)
(Published in Gutai no. 12, 1 May 1961)
The Future of the New Art
When at the end of the war I came down from the mountain to which they had allowed me to retire to rest during this long and catastrophic period, I found myself in my studio in Ashiya surrounded by a whole group of art students who were most enthusiastic about sitting up for nights on end into the small hours of the morning to discuss the future of the new art. It was the irresistible power of attraction which the abstract had on them and which had led them to me, perhaps because I had been together with Saburo Hasegawa Murai and Nagao Yamaguchi, one of the first who encouraged me to experiment in abstract art in Japan in the 1950s. But to be honest, it was not only friendship which made me want to encourage these young artists in their enthusiastic research work in the field of the unknown, nor had I the slightest intention of making them into authorities on any abstraction. However, after several years of frequent exchanges of ideas I began to discover very remarkable personalities amongmy new companions, like Shimamoto and Yamazaki. They were determined to free themselves of their “acquired skills” and, by experiment and adventure, to discover a new field withmore direct forms of expression. The number of artists in the group increased around 1950 and the majority of them participated at the municipal exhibition of Ashiya, a neighbouring city of Osaka, where we lived. At that time this exhibition was possibly the most liberal and open in the world and I had the honour of sitting on the jury. Year after year, works of great boldness and daring were approved; from Masanobu to Shiraga, Murakami, Tanaka, Motonaga and many others – these artists are at present the most important members of the Gutai group. Thus the activities and actual existence of our group have finally found recognition as the representatives of an important school of art among many art lovers. The Gutai art society was founded in 1951. It published, more or less as the cornerstone of its existence, the first Gutai journal, a very precious document which will forever bear witness. As they could not pay the very high costs charged by the printing press, the artists of the society were forced to print the journal themselves on a very modest press, which they paid for out of their own pockets. The edition was limited to 500 copies. The name Gutai meant the “up-dating of the spirit by matter”. At the end of the municipal exhibition in Ashiya in 1955, 1 suggested an open-air exhibition to the curators. This suggestion was accepted and was put into effect in the pinewoods near the beach. It was given the somewhat demanding title Exhibition of artistic experiments of Experimental Outdoor Exhibition of Modern Ari to Challenge the Mid-summer Burning Sun. The extraordinary atmosphere of those huge works which filled the entire wood is quite unforgettable. There was one, for example, consisting simply of poles stuck in the ground. Together they formed a line over a hundred metres long. The experience gained in this exhibition encouraged the artists of the Gutai group in their determination to break with the art of the past. They developed a sort of dadaism, although without the cynicism and tendency to the spectacular which had characterized the Dadaists. Shiraga, for example, used a large piece of hard wood which was processed with axe strokes and coloured red, and Tanaka used a large piece of cloth which he hung up horizontally and which waved in the wind. During the first indoor exhibition, which took place in the autumn of the first year at Ohara House, this spirit of adventure was even more obvious, and the experiments which were started again in 1956 gave me the idea of putting them on a stage. After the American magazine Life had sent a photographer in 1956 to report on our activities, “Gutai art on the stage” finally became reality one evening in May 1957 in the theatre of the Sankei newspaper in Osaka. Eleven pieces were presented, e.g. the sticks by Shiraga which leant up against a wall and fell over one by one to the beat of a tamboureen. At the last beat Shiraga himself appeared in the background on the stage, which suddenly divided into two halves, and carried out a weird, slow dance between some archers who discharged their arrows into the depths of the stage. This all happened in a profoundly dramatic movement of pure emotions which ruled out any literary elements. Similarly, the presentation by Murakami, who came onto the scene with a stick in his hand and tore up a paper screen with it. The sound of the explosion, magnified by the microphones, produced a strangely successful effect. When at the end the lighting fell on the ragged screen, one had a curious feeling in view of its unexpected beauty. This theatrical experiment was repeated in the same year in Tokyo, but as usual, there was little approval from the visitors or from well-meaning critics. However, we were glad to have opened up a new world to art. In September 1957 Michel Tapié finally came to Japan. Georges Mathieu was already here and we shall never forget their first meeting with our works; scarcely had Tapié set eyes on them than he went running off to wake up Mathieu who was sleeping in the next room. All the artists of the Gutai group were overjoyed finally to have before them the first two critics who recognized the authenticity of our experiments and the quality of our works, which they had indeed already achieved at that time. Since then we have the good fortune that Tapié now practically belongs to our group and that, thanks to his great experience as an art philosopher, he has been able to create a sound aesthetic foundation for the group. In the articles he has written about us, he has also presented our adventures at an international level very well and this has helped us to arrange a Gutai exhibition at the Martha Jackson Gallery in New York. I have returned from this journey with such extraordinary impressions and views that I am now able to encourage my young protagonists in their experiments much better and we shall be able to continue our work for Gutai.
(Artists’ Statement excerpted from the Gutai catalogue, in Notizie, II, no. 8, Turin 1959)
(Artists’ Statement excerpted from the Gutai catalogue, in Notizie, II, no. 8, Turin 1959)