Gutai

About

The Gutai Group was one of the most important artist collectives in postwar Japan. Founded by Yoshihara Jirō in 1954 near Osaka, its name translates as “concrete,” a reflection of the artists’ desire to push beyond the abstract painting of the day with experiments in pure materiality. Using everything from mud and Elmer’s glue to plastic tubing and sound art, these artists strove to create new, vital experiences that blurred the boundaries between art and life. Early experiments, such as Kazuo Shiraga’s calligraphic paintings made by smearing paint around on a canvas, evoking the gestural abstraction of Jackson Pollock or Art Informel, were soon followed by an emphasis on performances, immersive installations, and video. For a nation recently defeated in World War II and emerging from the shadow of totalitarianism, Gutai’s call for vitality, play, and new artistic frontiers served as a jolt to a culture of consensus. The group actively promoted itself abroad through the distribution of mail art and a well-circulated journal, and in 1958 prominent New York dealer Martha Jackson staged an exhibition of their work. Gutai’s focus on performance and materiality has often been cited as a precursor to Arte Povera and performance art of the 1960s.

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