Begin at the ground level of the Guggenheim Museum’s spiral ramp. With a ticket to “Gutai: Splendid Playground” in hand, you’ll embark on the first U.S. museum retrospective of the radical postwar Japanese art collective, the Gutai Art Association. The exhibition is organized chronologically; as you ascend, works from two generations of Gutai artists—characterized by their playful, avant-garde installation and performance art—are arranged before your eyes in a holistic display of the broad spectrum of the movement. You’ll pass paintings, performance, experimental films, installations, and sound, kinetic, light, and environmental art—watch for Tanaka Atsuko’s (literally) Electric Dress and Murakami Saburō’s Passing Through performance painting, created as the artist threw himself through paper screens. The prize, though, is Motonaga Sadamasa’s kaleidoscopic Work (Water), which has scattered the rotunda with a series of suspended plastic tubes, holding brightly colored water in mid air.
Tanaka Atsuko, Electric Dress, 1956 (refabricated, 1986). Synthetic paint on incandescent lightbulbs, electric cords, and control console, approximately 165 × 80 × 80 cm. Takamatsu City Museum of Art, Japan © Itō Ryōji, courtesy Takamatsu City Museum of Art; Murakami Saburō, Passing Through, 1956. Performance view: 2nd Gutai Art Exhibition, Ohara Kaikan, Tokyo, ca. October 11–17, 1956 © Murakami Makiko and the former members of the Gutai Art Association, courtesy Museum of Osaka University; Installation view: Gutai: Splendid Playground, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, February 15–May 8, 2013. Photo: David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.