‘Gutai: Splendid Playground’, a new interesting presentation courtesy Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum revolves around the amazing creative spectrum of one of Japan’s highly influential avant-garde collectives especially of the postwar era. We take a quick glance at the group and its art processes as well as philosophy.
- The Gutai Art Association (active 1954–72) originated in the cosmopolitan town of Ashiya, near Osaka, in western Japan. Spanning two generations, the group totaled 59 Japanese artists over its 18-year history. The name literally means ‘concreteness’ and captures the direct engagement with materials its members were experimenting with around the time of its founding in 1954.
- Founded by Yoshihara Jirō, the Gutai group’s young members explored new art forms combining performance, painting, and interactive environments, and realized an ‘international common ground of experimental art through the worldwide reach of their exhibition and publication activities. Against the backdrop of wartime totalitarianism, Gutai forged an ethics of creative freedom, to create some of the most exuberant works and events in the history of Japanese and international avant-garde art.
- Samsung Senior Curator of Asian art (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum), New York, Alexandra Munroe; and Ming Tiampo, an associate professor of art history at Carleton University, Ottawa have collaborated for the exhibit. According to them, as the global pioneers of environmental art, Gutai’s participatory environments take the form of organic or geometric abstract sculptures incorporating kinetic, light, and sound art, turning exhibition spaces into chaotic dens of screeching, pulsing, machine-like organisms. Yoshida Minoru’s erotic machine-sculpture ‘Bisexual Flower’ (1969) mines the psychedelic effects of this approach.
- The outdoor exhibitions of 1955 and 1956 literally set the stage for the group’s artistic strategies. Held in a pine grove park in Ashiya, these events brought art outside and released it from its confines, like Motonaga Sadamasa’s magisterial Work (Water). The Guggenheim commissioned the artist to recreate this work for the rotunda.
- On the other hand, Yoshihara’s ‘Please Draw Freely’ (1956/2013), a collective drawing on a freestanding signboard reconceived for the Guggenheim’s rotunda and created by visitors, invites adults and children to collaborate, think, and imagine for themselves. Moving from what Yoshihara decried as ‘fraudulent . . . appearances’ to lived reality, Gutai artists invented ways to go beyond contemporary styles of abstract painting into concrete pictures, blurring representational significance by incorporating raw matter, as well as time and space, as the stuff of art.