You are on page 1of 19

Situating a Singular Kind of 'Action': Early Gutai Painting, 1954-1957 Author(s): Joan Kee Source: Oxford Art Journal,

Vol. 26, No. 2 (2003), pp. 123-140 Published by: Oxford University Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 26/09/2013 10:51
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact

Oxford University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Oxford Art Journal.

This content downloaded from on Thu, 26 Sep 2013 10:51:28 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

a Singular Kindof 'Action': EarlyGutai Situating 1954-1957 Painting,

Joan Kee

4 May to took place from 1. The retrospective in started 27 June1999. The Gutaiinitially withseventeen 1954 underJiroYoshihara Tsuruko Shozo Shimamoto, members, including Toshio Yoshida,and Michio Yamasaki, In 1955, Kazuo Shiraga, Akira Yoshihara. AtsukoTanaka,SaburoMurakami, Kanayama, and Sadamasa Yozo Ukita,FujikoShiraga, joined the group. Motonaga 'Kazuo Shiraga Action 2. The exhibition, Painter'(Akushyon Shiraga Kazuo),took peintaa 2001. place from2 Juneto 22 July in the Exhibition: NewArt 3. In TheAvant-Garde 20thCentury (HarryN. Abrams:New York, 1994), pp. 186-7. in Shinichiro 4. As delineated Osaki, 'Painting BetweenActionand Material',in Barbara Bertozziand Klaus Wobert(eds.), Gutai: Darmstadt/ Mathildenhohe Avantgarde: Japanische Avant-Garde 1954-1965 (Mathildenhohe Japanese Darmstadt: Darmstadt, 1991), pp. 65-79. Zone - Modem 5. See HisashiMuroi, 'Transit no. 40, 1991, p. 55. & Text, Art',Art Japanese

Of increasing hasbeentherevival notein thepastfewyears ofinterest in the worksof the Japanese collective or, the groupGutai(GutaiBijutsu Kyokai, Concrete Art Association),whose spectaculargesturesand extensive of painting with the materiality have been the subjectof a engagement number ofnew exhibitions, suchas the1999 retrospective heldat theGalerie du Jeude Paumein Paris.1 the repertoire of Gutaiworks National Among in 1954 to its dissolution fromthe group's founding in 1972, the early between1954 and 1957 madepriorto French critic and Informel paintings in been Michel arrival have out for promoter Tapie's Japan particular singled to the Happenings of AllanKaprow,and above all, the poured comparison of Jackson Pollock.Giventheir formal withthesewellpaintings similarity knownworks,several critics and arthistorians havenarrowly construed the to theseworksdespitethe factthatthe latter Gutai only in comparison from Thesecomparisons areproblematic emerged distinctly separate agendas. in their attemptto situate Gutai works exclusivelyas offshoots or of works within the predecessors alreadypossessing significant currency Modernist canon. themajority ofanalyses theearly Gutai Relatively unchallenged, concerning fallen intoone of threekindsof comparative workshavegenerally models. themostcommon ofthesesituates theGutaipaintings as successors Probably of Kazuo to thoseof Pollock,as was the case in the recentretrospective in Museum of Art at the Prefectural Modem 2001, where Shiraga Hyogo known for his on Pollock's framed curator Shoichi Hirai, writings paintings, to This was those of Pollock. works as comparison Shiraga's beingparallel of best-known Doozo the that one enacted to works, [Please degree Shiraga's installation with almost no reference as a stand-alone ComeIn],was presented to the processwhichwas its actualraisond'etre.2The secondmodel of is one that theGutaias a precursor to other situates movements, comparison in thewritings of AllanKaprowwho celebrated theearlyGutai as evidenced to Happenings. arthistorian BruceAltshuler works as 'forerunners' Similarly, inkpourings Nikide Saint-Phalle's that hasargued ToshioYoshida's anticipate model car painting remote-controlled Tirs(1960) while AkiraKanayama's meta-matic machines andother works of foreshadows Jean Tinguely's drawing In contrast, to consider thethird modelhasattempted theNouveauRealistes.3 ofAbstract and between Pollock'sbrand theGutaias a bridge Expressionism in the of curator and art historian namely writings Kaprow'sHappenings, as paintings located Shinichiro Osaki wherethe Gutaiworksare considered between actionand material.4 the early Gutai works solely of construing The enduring persistence be ascribed to thefact of models can the partially through prism comparative art group when that the Gutai were only accepted as a legitimate Yet to 'discovered' by MichelTapie, as criticHisashiMuroi has argued.5 of the around the Gutai narratives confine discursive concerning practise in kindof hierarchical insinuates an erroneous thesecomparisons linearity

OXFORD ART JOURNAL 26.2 2003 121-140

This content downloaded from on Thu, 26 Sep 2013 10:51:28 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


as comparatively less important which theearlyGutaiworksare configured as the of the thanthe Western worksthatare implicitly keepers positioned restrict to More discussion avant-garde. seriously,they stylisticor set of and thus fail to considerthe particular formalistic considerations, behind the creation of these works. They obscure the motivations of the Gutai as an independent the spiritof identification organisation, in the group'sseriesof eponymous, well articulated whichis particularly journals. While this article concludes with a formal self-published and Pollock's works, I between the early Gutai paintings comparison without contend thatan adequatecomparison cannot be thoroughly enacted the the behind such which was Gutai's acknowledging agenda expression, kind of witha of connected an uninhibited pursuit originality inextricably considerable measure of reflexivity. 'To Do WhatHas Not Been Done Before' In theearly1950s,modern was dominated artistic Japanese practice by the tediousSturm undDrangof Social Realism,the reportage trendpopularin

6. Taro Okamoto, 'Sekai geijutsuno kakuritsu'

of International [Establishment Art],Atelier, May 1951, p. 24.

in 7. An untitled piece by SaburoMurakami no. 2, 10 October 1955, p. 3. Gutai, no. 4, 11 July1956, p. 9.

8. 'Shiraga Kazuo kun' [Kazuo Shiraga], Gutai,

9. Alexandra Munroe,forinstance, speculates thatthe Gutaiengagedin theiractionsin order of American-style to hasten the introduction Paul Schimmel York, 1994), p. 84. Similarly, thatthe Gutaiworkswere a 'direct speculates of the destruction response'to the fallout causedby the Second World War. Schimmel, and the 'Leap intothe Void: Performance Artand Thamesand Hudson: Contemporary Los Angeles,1998), p. 25.
10. Jiro Yoshihara, 'Waga kokoro no jijoden' 1945: democracy in Japan. See JapaneseArtAfter ScreamAgainstthe Sky (Harry N. Abrams: New

and Object', in Out of Action:BetweenPerformance the Object 1949-1979, (Museum of

The 'freedom' extolled hasbeenposited of as an expression byMurakami the Gutai'sdesireto escape political and but oppression rejectorthodoxy, sucha definition offreedom is inescapably basedon an idealistic, rights-based an escape froman oppressive model that presupposes politicalregime. was not interested in advocating Yoshihara any kind of politicalagenda, Gutai works have been read art historian and Alexandra Munroe although by curator Paul Schimmel, as a to the others, response among prevailing political in Japan in the late 1940s and early1950s.9Although and social situation Yoshihara wantedthe groupto producesomething viably'new' alongthe linesof theworksclassified as Dada ('I was thinking thatsomething, a quite new idea whichwas not conceived before the war mustemergein the art worldlikeDada after theFirst WorldWar'), he did notintend theGutaito emulate the Dada's formal nor was thereeveran indication thatthe styles, Gutaidesiredto utilisetheirart as a meansof political as was expression, often thecase with works identified as Dada.10The freedom explicitly sought and otherGutaimembers, was less affixed to the moreover, by Yoshihara of artistic thanin attaining liberation frompretence, pursuit vanguardism and otherforms of self-awareness. This freedom, the Gutaifelt, ambition, was an absolute in the creation of and pre-requisite truly original paintings was manifested in the Gutai'ssingle-minded on rather than emphasis action, on thefinished product.
124 OXFORD ART JOURNAL 26.2 2003

Tokyo, and the gentle, refinedabstraction(in particular,post-war nihon-ga) that was exported to foreignexhibitionssuch as the Sao Paulo Biennale as 'representative'of Japaneseartisticexpression. Among certaincircles, there was a growingdesire to escape fromthe monotonyand homogeneity of this dominance,as summarised by the noted criticTaro Okamoto who lamentedin the magazine Atelier that 'most concerns of art are becoming increasingly As if in response to Okamoto's implied yearning for similarinternationally.'6 and the of the leader, founder, Gutai, Jiro something unique, patron Yoshihara,exhortedthe youngmembersof the Gutai to strivefor originality and newness, which the artistsduly heeded. 'If creationdoes not come from each man's personalfreedomit is meaningless',declared one member,Saburo Murakami.7 In like manner, Akira Kanayama recalls how Shiraga would criticise a certainwork as 'havingbeen done frequently paintings by dismissing before.'8

of My Heart],KobeNewspaper, 9 [Autobiography RobertsclaimsthatYoshihara July1967. James envisioned the Gutaito playa role analogousto thatof Dada after the FirstWorld War but and the GutaiManifesto Yoshihara's writings, itself whichacknowledges the Dada but does not consider the Gutaito be indebted to it, refutes the validity of Roberts'conjecture. as Performance', Art in Roberts,'Painting James of America, May 1992, pp. 113-18. Similarity does not readily translate into appearance of intent. the Gutai Nevertheless, equivalence as partof the Dada legacy have been considered in the context of exhibitions as per their
inclusion in Dada in Japan: JapanischeAvantgarde

May to 26 June1983.

1920-1970 at the Kunstmuseum 18 Diisseldorf,

This content downloaded from on Thu, 26 Sep 2013 10:51:28 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

1954-1957 EarlyGutaiPainting,

for took the initiative 11. Newspapers often the 1951 San exhibitions after organising Peace Treatywiththe US which Francisco betweenthe US liberalised cultural exchange The and Japan.In Kazu Kaido, 'Reconstruction: Role of the Avant-Garde in Post-War Japan'in Art inJapan1945Reconstructions: Avant-Garde 1965, Museumof ModernArtOxford,Oxford, 1985, p. 21. 12. A specialnote of Pollock's deathwas made in the fifth issue of the Gutai journal.It was in how the thisissue thatB. H. Friedman recounts secondand third issuesof Gutaiwere found Friedman also amongPollock'spossessions. wishedto have a copy added how Lee Krasner of the first issue as well as othersubsequent issues. 'Jackson Pollock no bobu'[An Obituary for no. 5, 1 October 1956, Jackson Pollock],Gutai, p. 25. 13. Shinichiro Osaki, 'Body and Place: Action in PostwarArtin Japan',in OutofAction, p. 149. 14. B. H. Friedman, Pollock', Gutai, 'Jackson in Japanese on no. 5, p. 25. Also reproduced p. 26.

This emphasis on action appears to confirmconventionalthinkingthat between 1947 and 1950 servedas a precedent Pollock and his poured paintings the notion of the art historical forthe young Gutai artists,or less frequently, as to of the Gutai precursors Happenings. While this trickle-down position is enticing artistic influence of theory givenYoshihara'spraise of Pollock's No. 11 (1949) and No. 7 (1950) at the Third Yomiuri IndependentExhibitionin to deem the earlyGutai paintersas mere offshoots of 1951, it is too simplistic as a Pollock especiallywhen originality, not emulation,was clearlyestablished M defined goal for the young Gutai artists. When Yoshihara saw Pollock's works and laterwrote of the artist as an icon deserving of homage in the Gutai of 1956, it was to praisehis inventiveness, ArtManifesto not to urge the Gutai paintersto copy Pollock's actual formalstyle.'2 The power of being able to conceive, of being able to give birthto an idea, was the focus of Yoshihara's admirationand it was that power that the young Gutai artistsattemptedto recreate,ratherthanthe produced invention per se. The earlyGutai paintings were accordingly derivativeonly to the extent that they wanted to emulate Pollock's ability to be original. It is equally simplisticto see early Gutai for as ShinichiroOsaki has argued, the Gutai paintingsas proto-Happenings reduced form to the process of reductionwas not inevitably painting, although as complete as he suggests.3 The twenty-four members which comprisedthe Gutai between 1954 and 1957 admired what they perceived as ambiguityon Pollock's part, citing Pollock biographerB. H. Friedman's text in which he notes: 'it's half-true thathe [Pollock] was violentand destructive and thatin the end he destroyed himself.The other half of the truthwas that he was tender and creative.'14 The above statementdenotes the artist's ambiguous attitude towards selfdestruction and softness and the Gutai felt that it was this ambiguous perspective which opened up the possibilityof creating new connections while not havingto adhere to the inevitably restrictive limitations of any one position or angle. Deliberate ambiguityreleased the artist from the silent tyrannyof having to espouse and perpetuate one kind of attitude, an eminently appealing escape hatch presumably leading to the 'freedom' celebratedby Murakami. The particularformof ambiguity thatthe Gutai stumbledupon (I use the 'stumbled since it was phrase upon' part of theirpractisenever to consciously and refine in develop technique) conceptualisingtheir paintingswas their of violence into violence into a kind of play, collapse whimsy.By remastering the Gutai endeavouredto avoid havingthe violentaspect of theirworksread as a reflection of post-war devastationor emblematicof a given socio-political the emphasison the whimsicalspiritin their 'playful' agenda. Concurrently, freed them from paintings havingto committo any perspective.This allowed them the flexibility needed to concentrateon action and process as a they manifestation of freedom. physical Also at work was the developmentof an ambiguouskind of paintingthat was neither a painting in the conventional sense nor a full-fledged On the one hand, theirconceptionof painting as action severed performance. themfromthe prevailing trendsof theirday. On the otherhand, the rationale whichtheyarrivedat thisbroad conceptionalso separatedthemfrom through the formallysimilar works of Pollock, for whom action was to ultimately succumb to the fixedmark on the canvas, as well as the later Happeningsof Kaprow in the 1960s wherebyaction was purelyephemeral,a gestureof the temporalwithouttrace or residue. Whether the early Gutai painters succeeded in inventing purely original
OXFORD ART JOURNAL 26.2 2003 125

This content downloaded from on Thu, 26 Sep 2013 10:51:28 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


ofpainting is certainly forms after had splashed debatable; all, theSurrealists in their about order to the of the unconscious as didthe paints unpack power Informel and in were visible certain of Hans painters drippedportions Hofmann's canvases. the idea of unconventional utensils Furthermore, using formark-making was not unique in the Japanese contextfor avant-garde had alreadyexperimented witha wide arrayof mark-making calligraphers horsehair brushes to metalwires.Butit was theGutaithat tools,from giant that couldbe reduced to an theidea ofpainting as a function first developed kind of actionthrough the ambiguous conflation of intenseand singular effective and The whimsical was a particularly violenceand whimsy. spirit and itallowedtheyoung to shedself-consciousness for shared strategy, painters thosefundamental that enablethem to, as Shiraga putit, 'investigate qualities
we were all born with.'15

15. Kazuo Shiraga, 'Kotaino kakuritsu' [The of the Individual no. Gutai, Expansion Entity], 4, p. 6. 16. SadamasaMotonaga,'Mizi' [The Unknown], no. 3, 20 October 1955, p. 23. Gutai, 17. Kazuo Shiraga, 'Kotaino kakuritsu' [The no. of the Individual Gutai, Expansion Entity], 4, p. 6. 'Mambo to kaiga' 18. Shozo Shimamoto, no. 3, p. 22. Gutai, [Mamboand Painting], the 19. The secondissue of Gutaifeatured worksof MichikoInui,a thirteen-year old girl, yetbothYozo Ukitaand Shozo Shimamoto Ukitawrites, discussher ordinariness. markedly 'she was an averagestudent, smallof somewhat talents.She was not size, and had no astonishing to sono in 'InuiMichikosan a personof distinction' sakuhin' [MissMichikoInui and Her Works],in with no. 2, p. 30. But the fascination Gutai, notedas the Inuilay in whatShimamoto of the works.Shozo Shimamoto, 'truthfulness' 'InuiMichiko no sakuhinni tuite'[AboutMichiko Inui's Works],Gutai, no. 2, p. 30. On page 30, Ukitaalso praisesInui's worksforbeingable to and betweengenuineness realise'the difference also notesthat'expression adulteration.' Shiraga to certain, shouldnot be limited qualified [The Expansion people.' See 'Kotaino kakuritsu' no. 4, p. 6. of the Individual Gutai, Entity], of talent 20. This is not to say thatconceptions were not concerns of the Gutai.Yozo or quality Ukitawritesthat'extraordinary talent, unique of skillare vitalqualities technical perception, an artist'but he concludesthatit is 'the ability the essenceof the artthatis the to understand of all.' Yozo Ukita, mostimportant quality on the SecondEditionof 'Documentary no. 2, p. 32. "GUTAI"', Gutai, that of paintings 21. The masshanging characterised the earlyGutaiexhibitions individualised suddenly gave way to a highly issue of the treatment withtheninth beginning Gutai on 12 April1958, after journal,published the arrival of Tapie in Japan.Unlikeearlier consisted of small issueswhichprimarily blackand white,very (mostly photographs colouras in thefifth and seventh occasionally issues) of the worksaccompanied by the artists' theninth namesin bothEnglish and Japanese, as muchas the issue focusedon the artist American and European works.Featuring de Kooningand Pollockas artists, including was each artist well as the Gutaimembers, allotteda page upon whichhis or her artwas and a accompanied by a shortbiography of the artist. There was a marked photograph of the shift towardWestern-style privileging in individual artist thathad not been apparent natureof themore collective, group-oriented the earlyGutaiexhibitions.

and Constraint Circumventions: Hierarchy Repudiating 'Playful' thelarger for 'freedom' reason wanting to pursue Becausea primary through what in theburgeoning desire to escapefrom was rooted oforiginality pursuit theGutai concentrated ofartistic as a constricting wasperceived trends, group wrote: As Sadamasa on repudiating hierarchy. Motonaga
evenin innature. emotion is limitless There [Itis] inevery creature, every every person, object, that we a bladeofgrass,butmostpeoplehavedifficulty seeingitbecausetheseareobjects andemotion where amazement are a newkind ofbeauty ... we are creating see all thetime theamazement and will be ableto recall we arecreating a selfwhich Inthat restored. process, ineverything.16 emotion

as an is configured is a model in which originality Suggestedin thisstatement objective that is initially unattainable because humans are too deeply embedded in layersof pretence, ambition,and cynicismthat are acquired in the process of physicalgrowthand age. In order to reclaim lost originality, layersmustbe shed in a process of reduction.The Gutai peeled each layerby ambitionand self-glory consciouslydeveloped along with denying repudiating and stylisedtechnique. As Shiraga observed, 'One cannot make art that is one's own if the intent is to produce works with societal messages or commercial value.'17 All forms of self-glorywere rejected and Shozo Shimamotoadmonished,'I do not agree with the idea thatholds thatpainting fromrigidideologyand gainswidespreadapprovalmakes whichliberatesitself 18 withthe qualityof the common forgreatartwork. The Gutai were intrigued This attraction as theyfeltit to be more genuinethanan artificial hierarchy.19 which carried to egalitarianism to the ordinarysuggesteda similarattraction into their exhibitionswhere there were no discernible 'star' painters or showcase works. As depicted in the fourth issue of the Gutai journal in Tokyo, and againin the 1956 the October 1955 exhibition commemorating were exhibited exhibition,paintings closely togetherin a tight,compressed that the There is no sense paintingswere intended to be space (Fig. 1). the early as solo as works)20and throughout epic contemplated 'great' (e.g. an to so as avoid works were untitled of Gutai identifying activity, many years artists as individualwork of art as such since theywanted to avoid privileging individual 'stars,' at least prior to Tapie's arrival in Japan in 1957.21 To privilegeindividualartists,and thus to set up a 'hero' systemin which the works of one individual might be valued over another would be to it into a marketin whichthe spiritof commercialisethe collectiveby turning into would potentiallydisintegrate collaborationin the name of originality competition. intra-group
126 OXFORD ART JOURNAL 26.2 2003

This content downloaded from on Thu, 26 Sep 2013 10:51:28 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Early Gutai Painting, 1954-1957


~ ~~
_ .


~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


. .

and History andtheformer members oftheGutai ofthe1956 SecondGutai Art Exhibition. Museum ofArt view Group.) Fig.1. On-site (Photo: Ashiya City

22. Shozo Shimamoto, 'Mambo to kaiga'

Gutai,no. 3, p. 22. [Mamboand Painting],

yogari toyoo goto' [About Dogma], Gutai, no. 4,

23. As notedby SadamasaMotonagain 'Hitori

p. 21.

in theirartisticpractise and In order to circumvent structures hierarchical their own relationshipswith each other, the visceralityof human action became the centre of the early Gutai paintings.To be sure, there were a handfulof painterslike Shimamoto,Kanayama, and Toshiko Kinoshitawho were more convincedby the potentialof chance, or accident, as a means of and freedomnecessaryto achieve 'originality'.As the unstudiedness attaining Shimamotowrote, 'I thinkthatsuperiorpaintingscan be made by paint spilt over over after accidentally droppinga ball fromthe second floorand knocking action nor ambition.'22 a can of paint . . . in that act there is no superfluous an ink cartridgeon a motorisedtoy Kanayama created paintings by attaching car and havingit run over a large piece of paper (Fig. 2), while Kinoshita,a former chemistry teacher, experimented with spontaneous chemical processes. the More generally,the Gutai turned to play as a means of transforming to the Gutai Excitement and fun were considered paintingprocess. integral that would paintersand the act of playingwas the most expansive strategy each of as well as enable excitement the painter, experienced by encompass and external notions of 'correct' ideas them to disregardself-consciousness Quipped Shimamoto,'it would never do forthose elitists regarding painting.23 made by dancingthe mambo on a canvas' to considera masterpiecea painting and the Gutai accomplishedtheirtransformation by literally usingthe canvasas a site for sport, as in Michio Yoshihara's 1956 paintingin which the artist dipped a bicycle in paint, then rode it on top of a canvas, Shiraga'swrestling
OXFORD ART JOURNAL 26.2 2003 127

This content downloaded from on Thu, 26 Sep 2013 10:51:28 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

; ! ..

.- V




24. Shozo Shimamoto, 'Mambo to kaiga'

Gutai,no. 3, p. 22. [Mamboand Painting],

a remote-controlled inhisstudio, 1957, performance. Fig.2. Akira Kanayama making painting ofArt Museum and History andAkira (Photo: Ashiya City Kanayama.) matches with mud, like Doru ni idomu [Challenging Mud] (1955) (Fig. 3), or in his foot paintings in which he appears to take Shimamoto's words to heart by dancing on the canvas surface.24 With this transformation came the ability to strip pretence from action as Shiraga achieved in his discovery of foot-painting: 'when I firstdiscovered my own individuality, I thought I would remove all ready-made clothes and

? ?r "?,



r r

1L ?r"-?it:?,i?
( ?? 2: S? "" 3_;?-


kur .;?? Y t.) i

I! d Lit'.r 5ic i. F ,-ic i?* +Lrb *'? ' "


?, ?4


f%????r V4r. r? i ?.?? .i -r7t


'-tr f ?


C4 ,c*-\ L?. ?? ZI

Doru niidomu 1955, performance. (Photo: Fig.3. KazuoShiraga, Mud], Ashiya City [Challenging Museum ofArt and History, KazuoShiraga, andtheformer members oftheGutai Group.)
128 OXFORD ART JOURNAL 26.2 2003

This content downloaded from on Thu, 26 Sep 2013 10:51:28 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

1954-1957 EarlyGutaiPainting,

'Koi koso'[Just 25. Kazuo Shiraga, Action], no. 3, p. 22. Gutai, watashi' 'Yakaiten 26. FujikoShiragami, zengo the Outdoor Beforeand After [Myself no. 3, p. 23. Exhibition], Gutai, 27. FujikoShiragami, 'Yakaiten', p. 23. withAlexandra 28. AtsukoTanaka,interview Art Munroe,24 August1991, citedinJapanese theSky, 1945: Scream After Against p. 89. 29. AtsuoYamamoto,'Gutai 1954-72', Gutai I-II-1, (Ashiya CityMuseumof Artand History: Ashiya,1994), p. 7.

become naked, formsblew away and all technique slipped offmy painting the Gutai believed that a set, knife.'25By this returnto the visceralinstinct, In could be one of her essaysforGutai,a form of avoided. crystallised painting its almost confessionalvoice, Fujiko was characterised which by publication of form inevitablein her process how the set was discusses Shiragami disposal First Before the Gutai of transformation. Exhibition,she 'craved expression greaterthan herself.I wanted to express immense power which humankind could never controlby any means possible.'26She soon discovered,however, whichin turn,yielded thather ideal could onlybe realisedthrough symbolism, the development of form. To pursue the development of form, however, would be 'uncontrollably ... I had to change.'27 suffocating. and violence, qualitiesknowingno order, Whimsy inherently transgressive became highly pronounced. Several members of the Gutai had been interestedin whimsyprior to the actual formationof the group in 1954. Kazuo Shiraga and Atsuko Tanaka, members of the Zero Group (Zero-kai) who later joined the Gutai in 1955, were especially engaged in these early explorations of the whimsical spirit. Shiraga's set of bright red canvases employed finger paintingtechniquesthat resultedin a push-and-pull rhythm that made furrow-like marks on the pictorial surface. Coursing throughout the entirety of the canvas, the slack and pull of Shiraga's fingers is visible at turn and This between the artist and paint junction. every tug-of-war Shimamoto's which Sakuhin was created [Work] (Fig. 4), paralleled by violentlyrubbing a pencil over a canvas made of layers of newspaper. A more vivid example was demonstrated 6 [Work by Atsuko Tanaka's Sakuhin in which featured numbers repeatedly scrawled with 1955, 6], produced of cloth or paper. Made when Tanaka was hospitalised crayon on fragments and in a state of hallucination, the numberswere taken froma calendaron a hospital wall, and the numbers depicted in the work resemble absentminded, unconsciousdoodlingthatmightbe foundin the marginsof a child's textbook or notebook.28Her use of crayon on paper reinforcesthe link to childhood,while the simple arithmetic repetitionof the number '6' retraces the equally basic arithmetic learned in the earlieststages of life. The insistent repetition operates as a writtenplea to return to this early state; in her Tanaka has taken leave of hallucinatory state of un-self-consciousness, restraint to her for a returnto her origins, instinctive desire ordinary pursue coded in this work as a simple positive integer. The relationshipbetween visceralityand childlike impulse as seen in Tanaka's earlyworkswas fostered by manyof the Gutai artists'experiencesas and art This relationship teachers.29 was more fully elementary kindergarten in the own Gutai's with a children's art and Kirin, developed relationship in 1947 founded and Yozo edited Ukita, which literary magazine by the works of this the From initial Gutai. interestin occasionallyreproduced children'sart as an alternative means of expressiongrew a lastingattraction to the impulsiveenergyperceived as the domain of children.The Gutai painters valorised this energy for if they were able to acquire the unbridled and unadulterated and energyof the childlike impulse,theirworkscould stayfresh This was in idea the second issue of the forever. Gutai intriguing explored journal and manifestationsof the childlike impulse were discussed in in the fourthissue where Yoshiharadescribes subsequentissues, particularly members in terms of the Gutai reservedto describechildren. many ordinarily In recallingthe excitementof the Kansai-basedGutai paintersin havingtheir first in Tokyo ('First Gutai Art Exhibition', 19-28 October 1955), exhibition YoshiharadescribesSadamasa Motonaga as looking 'so happykeepinga room
OXFORD ART JOURNAL 26.2 2003 129

This content downloaded from on Thu, 26 Sep 2013 10:51:28 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions




' '.-

Exhibition', Gutai, no. 4, p. 3.

'The FirstGutaiArt 30. JiroYoshihara, 31. Gutai,no. 4, p. 4. Yoshihara's descriptions his paternal interest stem,however,from

' s ,'*

4 i.


. N' 've'


. 'may



^ ' "..,



.:t. '1.


thereis a striking of a letterdated reproduction

7 November 1956 written to t Yoshihara h r by

younger painters (in the sixth issue of Gutai,

;*. ;I ^
~#' B' J ?^

' _





' *U , |B "


in responseto the FluxusmemberRayJohnson interest the former to B. H. Friedman expressed were interested in) as well his role as surrogate father forthe Gutai,all of whom were in their own son, late 20s or early 30s. Yoshihara's MichioYoshihara, was also partof the Gutai.




' >^ :'t

l ^

' ?St ' ~ F"^;'?'' " .' '~" '

. ( ^." :




' . ,: W.' _. i" \ . '


'* '.'
sKazuo M[


^i^^^^^^^T^.~~ *0 '^Ii' ' .i


.r'* -

32. Akira Kanayama, 'Shiraga Kazuo kun' IOn


Gutai,no. 4, p. 9. Shiragal,

K :+

' "




i '

Sakuhin on newspaper, 161 x 127 cm.Ashiya 1954, paint [Work], Fig.4. ShozoShimamoto, City Museum ofArt and History, Museum ofArt and History and Shozo (Photo: Ashiya. Ashiya City Shimamoto.) 30 while upstairs to himself, his oils on the walls and his "stones" on the floor' a work of stones and likens the other members to painted composing on a school Far from excursion.'31 condescension that 'kindergarteners any might be implied in this account, however, such description reflected the significance attributed to the childlike impulse. The impulse was critical for it signalled a return to that stage in life where the mythical power to wonder, dream, and imagine was intact, free from a jaded perspective that blinded the individual's capacity for sensitivity, creativity, and amazement. Lightheartedness thus played a strong role in the Gutai rhetoric, and as Kanayama mentions, 'there was no point in doing something that was not fun.'32 A further illustration of such lightheartedness was the reproduction of a review of the first outdoor Gutai exhibition by the US armed forces newspaper Pacific Stars & Stripesin the fourth issue of the Gutai journal. The Gutai cut out the headline 'Art is a Hole in the Ground' and prominently placed it on the centre of the page. Combined with the fact that the review is
130 OXFORD ART JOURNAL 26.2 2003

This content downloaded from on Thu, 26 Sep 2013 10:51:28 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

1954-1957 EarlyGutaiPainting,

Gutai Art Geijutsu Manifesto], Shincho, December 1956,p. 202.

33. Jiro Yoshihara, 'Gendai bijutsusengen' [The

with KazuoShiraga, 10 interview 34. Osaki, Gutai/Gutai Shiroyoshu: 1985,Document July Culture 1954-1972 (Ashiya City Foundation:g 1993), p. 380. Ashiya,
Outdoor modan atoyagaijikkenten' [Experimental p. 26.

a j. :' i t:

'Manatsu notaiyo niidomu 35. YozoUkita,

ofModer Art to Challenge the Exhibition no. 3, 1955, Midsummer Sun], Gutai, Burning



of Museum Doozo[Pleasecomein],1955, performance. (Photo: Ashiya City Fig. . KazuoShiraga, andtheformer members oftheGutai Art KazuoShiraga, and History, Group.)

reproducedon the next-to-last page (or the second page to a Japanesereader) and translatedinto Japanese, the Gutai wanted to imprintthe unwittingly humorous/absurd headline into the minds of their Japanese readers as as possible. strongly involved in transforming paintinginto play was so Often, the viscerality zealously pursued that violence, rather than whimsy, became the allconsumingtheme. Indeed, Yoshiharahad urged the Gutai to let the 'material show thatwere exhibitedin the first take revenge'33 and manyof the paintings where the Gutai made their inaugural appearance ('Experimental Outdoor Modern Art Exhibitionto Challenge the BurningSun', 25 Julyto 6 August 1955 in the Ashiya forest) featuredvisually aggressiveworks like Shiraga's Doozo [Please Come In] (1955) (Fig. 5). Doozo was notable forits set of cuts, cone of logs set in the ground. Considered by Shiraga or scars on a pyramidal the logs playthe role.of canvasin whichtheyserve as a passive to be a painting, receptorof the keen nip of the axe.34The axe wounds, violates,and penetrates the wooden surface,leavingcreamychip marksas evidence of the ravage and Ukita notes that Shiraga's motive in displayingthis work was to 'express instinctive destruction.'35 Likewise, Sadamasa Motonaga's Kugi [Nails] (1956) (Fig. 6), comprisedof two poles studded with hundredsof nails, implies the same sense of violent action. Protruding menacinglyfromthe surfacelike a the porcupine'squills, the nailsare stillin the process of attack,thusconnoting ongoing process of destruction.This idea of attack also manifesteditselfin Shiraga's bow-and-arrow sequence in 1957 when the artist had groups of friends assaulta group of whitepanels witharrowsdipped in red paint(Fig. 7). But although the acts themselves are violent, they are not implicative of of rage, pain, or sorrow. The malicious intent or physical manifestations a ball againsta canvas, bottlesagainstthe floor,or hurling actionsof throwing arrowsagainstpanels resembleactual sportor child's play to the pointthatthe almost dilutes the violence of the physicalaction. approximation thatcould be used as on usingweapons, or otherimplements The insistence such axes, arrows, nails - could easily be read as a metaphor for the the Second World ofJapan'sindustrial-military destruction complex following

This content downloaded from on Thu, 26 Sep 2013 10:51:28 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Joan Kee

132 OXFORD ART JOURNAL 26.2 2003

This content downloaded from on Thu, 26 Sep 2013 10:51:28 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

1954-1957 EarlyGutaiPainting,

ofArt and Museum view of'Gutai on Stage'.(Photo: sanbaso[Supermodem 1957, performance City Ashiya sanbaso], Fg. 7. KazuoShiraga, Chogendai
membersof the GutaiGroup.) and the former History

'The FirstGutaiArt 36. JiroYoshihara, Gutai,no. 4, p. 3. Exhibition', 'Another'Me], Gutai,no. 4, p. 24. [Regarding thispiece was signed12 February Although were dated. 1956, fewof the Gutaiarticles
37. Toshio Yoshida, 'Betu no zibun no goto'

[Nails], Kugi Fig.6. Sadamasa Motonaga, onwoodand nails, 220 x 23 cm 1955, paint ofArt and History, each. Ashiya Museum City Museum ofArt and (Photo: Ashiya City Ashiya. andSadamasa Motonaga.) History

such a readingoverlooksthe interaction War. Though a veritablered herring, between materialsinherentin the acts of chopping,carving,and hammering and the Gutai artists' enjoyment in engaging in these acts. Certainly the attitudedisplayedby some of the Gutai membersin preparingfor professional for an important theiractions was not unlike athletesin training competition mud every for worked on the with a formidable example, adversary.Shiraga, day to obtain the proper consistencyin anticipation of his struggle and axe, which he was 'obtained, forpurposes of the work [Doozo], a magnificent In of these however, the procedures, spite day.'36 every painstaking shining it as is reworkedinto the whimsicalspiritas Shiragatranslated professionalism part of a game of masquerade and playacting.He experimentswith Toshio Yoshida's idea of a different'I', or second self by assuming, but never completely absorbing, differentroles.37 Shiraga assumes the role of a wrestlerthe momenthe entersthe mud-filled professional ringand steps into wields his shining axe againstthe initially the role of the warriorwhen he first and hostile surfaceof the wooden poles in Doozo. unyielding The acts and the process of creatingthe paintings, however, are never to be takenseriously.It is important to note thatShiragadoes not actuallyabsorbthe persona of an athleteor warrior,since to departfromthe realm of simulation for the realm of actualitywould imply that the artistis tryingto duplicate reality.The materials- mud and wood - are quixotic icons thatserve as the artist'simaginary enemies, consequently reducingthe impactof theirviolence of brutality. untilit could be read more as a formof play thana manifestation The artistplays a role, thatis to say, he engages in simulationbut never loses between duplicatingwhat sight of the fact that there is a clear difference
OXFORD ART JOURNAL 26.2 2003 133

This content downloaded from on Thu, 26 Sep 2013 10:51:28 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


exists andsimulating or actions in order to models, already predefined images, a different objective. accomplish Simulations suchas theseextended to otherGutaipaintings. In keeping withYoshihara's of theGutaimembers to co-operate withall artistic urging to music,the Gutaiplayedwithdifferent roles and genresfromliterature in a Toshio for envisioned which he Yoshida, instance, project guises.38 coloured across the wouldpaintby releasing Osaka sky gas accompanied by hence'cinematising' thesky.39 actions in front ofan stagelights, Performing of stageperformance, of Shiraga's a version audiencewas but a variation in which he and tacticin donning himself between suspended reality guises manner In a similar to who fiction. as, or pure Shiraga masqueraded or warrior, theGutaiexhibitions simulated therole oftheathlete simulated, as theatrical Amidst the festive, matsuri-like or masqueraded performance. and accompanying outdoor exhibitions of strung music,their trappings lights the painting or stageso as to spectacularise the festival simulated process. in the 1957 exhibitions culminated This role-playing ('Gutai Art on the in which Stage',held in Osaka on 29 May and Tokyoon 17 July) painting for exhibition the and theenclosed lefttheoutdoors public inherently space realmof the stage(see Fig. 7, forexample).Painting 'put on' theguiseof as possible, in orderto attract as much attention theatrical performance were received with surprisingly little althoughthe early exhibitions
interest40 interest.

no. 1, 1 January 1955, p. 3. Gutai, Publishing], This idea was also repeatedby Yoshihara in the Stage],Gutai, no. 7, 1957. no. 2, p. 30. Do], Gutai,

38. Jiro Yoshihara, 'Hakkan ni saisite' [On

'Butai o tsukaugutai bijutsu' [Gutai Art That Uses

39. Yoshida, 'Yatte mitai koto' [Things I Want to

Gutaiof Tokyo],Gutai, no. 4, p. 32. Yamasaki mentions her disappointment at the lack of in critical to the FirstGutaiExhibition response discussthe content Tokyo 1955. 'Criticsoften of artand whentheycannotfind anything, criticize it by remarking thatthereis no content.'
41. Shozo Shimamoto, 'Daisetsuna shinkei' [The

40. Tsuruko Yamasaki, 'Tokyo no Gutai jin' [The

of the Impulse],Gutai, no. 4, p. 9. Importance 42. Osaki, 'Body and Place: Actionin Postwar Artin Japan',OutofAction, pp. 148-9. 43. Osaki, 'Body and Place: Actionin Postwar Artin Japan',OutofAction, p. 149. See also his of Action:Gutai,Pollock, [The Strategy Kaprow' Kaprow],in Gutai(Jeude Paume: Paris, 1999), pp. 50-66.
essay, 'Une Strategiede 'action: Gutai, Pollock,

Nor'Happening':A SingularKindof Expression Action Neither Painting and theearlyGutaipaintings between thedifference Giventhisbackground, be more can Pollock'sworks (andto a lesserextent, Happenings) thoroughly demandedboth to Pollock, whose drip paintings explicated.In contrast therewas a crucialdifference to processand the finalproduct, attention of the Gutai,forthe in the and between early paintings production product as stated Shimamoto: cruxof theworkwas in its creation, by
tothepastthrough direct is expressed, and itis linked When excitement one's irrepressible to nor Itlies inthewill theinthework. thevalueoftheartlies notintheartist expression, create4"

to what Osaki has suggested- thatthe resultand the creationof the Contrary - it was the process that to the artists were of equal importance earlypaintings the Osaki notes that the actions value of the outweighed product.42 rightly the notion that process and for which the press, were performed supports not deliver an as to why productionwere key elements,but he does argument to the paintersthemselves,and the works, the end products,were significant at least as significant as the completedworks. Despite all the Gutai's attempts to explode previous definitionsof what painting should be, the finished paintingwas affordedgreater status than that allotted for the process of even among Japanesecriticswell versedin the group's activities.43 artmaking, to thatlabour (definedhere as the painting The assumption process) is inferior the product persists, although it was the very assumption that the Gutai succeeded in subverting. Osaki's argument of equality, that action was thekindof reduced to form,and thatthe Gutai intendedto focuson producing to be for that the end intended result,is at odds is, public view, hung painting with the early works. Yoshiharaposited thatPollock servedthe material,whichwould seem to be thatPollock also was in the employof a persuasivepiece of evidencein arguing
134 OXFORD ART JOURNAL 26.2 2003

This content downloaded from on Thu, 26 Sep 2013 10:51:28 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Early Gutai Painting, 1954-1957

Possibilities 44. Jackson Pollock,'My Painting', I, New York,Winter1947-8, p. 79.

JacksonPollock: The Early Years (The Gerald

45. WilliamS. Lieberman, 'Introduction', PetersGallery:SantaFe and Dallas, 1988).

Artsand Architecture, vol. 61, no. 2, February 1944.

to a Questionnaire', 46. As statedin 'Answers

the paintingprocess. This was true to the extent that the latter ventured 'further and further away fromthe usual painter'stools such as easel, palette, brushes, etc',44 but as art historian William Lieberman has pointed out, 'drawing was always an essential component of his [Pollock's] art'45 and to his art.46Thus he of craftsmanship Pollock himselfstated the essentiality served the materialonly to the point thatsuch servitudewould create lasting on canvasin thehopes of producinga good result.The membersof impressions the Gutai, in contrast,had no record of establishedwork as emergingyoung artists and expressed no interest in delineating monumental or enduring images. Indeed, to create such images would contradictthe kind of ethos of one's instinct ordinariness theypursuedboth as a means of liberating egalitarian in as well as refuting the kindsofhierarchy theyperceived societyand in the art underminedany that The of at time. emphasison play further practice Japan rendered at possible pretence makinglasting,carefully images. Consider the marksmade by Murakami,and others like Shimamoto,who bottlesof paint on a flaccid,limp canvas (Fig. 8), made paintings by throwing and Yoshida, who poured India ink from a wateringcan at a point ten feet above the canvas. Their canvases were memorable in theirrecord of smash, splash, and splatterbut lacked the controlneeded to produce a paintingthat In Murakami's Borude kaita sakuhin of line and rhythm. could speak fluently a Executed By Throwing Ball] (1954) (Fig. 9), the artistcreated a [Painting, paintingby throwinga rubber ball coated with ink against a white canvas. ink stain from a leaky The remainingmark resembles a much-magnified The mark punctuates tail-like with a comet's wake. ballpointpen, complete of motion or rhythmic the canvas, but does not speak of any fluidity grace; it is simply a singular black mark. Early Gutai paintings that relied on of exclamation pouring,smashing,or throwing paint thus resembled a flurry were as the an on sudden, intense,but canvas, apt metaphor points paintings

bottles ofpaints on paper at theSecond a painting bythrowing Fig.8. ShozoShimamoto executing and Museum ofArt and History, ShozoShimamoto, Gutai Art 1955. (Photo: Exhibition, Ashiya City members oftheGutai theformer Group.)
OXFORD ART JOURNAL 26.2 2003 135

This content downloaded from on Thu, 26 Sep 2013 10:51:28 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


47. Carter Ratcliff, The Fate of a Gesture(Harper

Collins: Canada, 1996), p. 3.

48. Cited writing Fate, by Pollockin Ratcliff, p. 8.

Boru de kaita sakuhin Executed a Ball], Murakami, 1954, ink Fig.9. Saburo [Painting, by Throwing on paper, 105.8 x 75.6 cm.Private collection. Museum ofArt and History, (Photo: Ashiya City members oftheGutai Makiko andtheformer Murakami, Group.)

short-lived.They broughtmaterial to life, but the resuscitation period was but momentary. Pollock's canvases, on the other hand, gave the material continued life brushes with throughhis abilityto control, even when he was substituting sticks and basting syringesas his preferredmeans of mark-making.His are more rightly termedas 'action painting'to the extentthataction paintings is only a means to produce the enduringcanvas. As criticCarter Ratcliff has Pollock's a to the observed, paint-flinging generated 'pictorial equivalent himself the connection American infinite.'47 Pollock emphasised Although and the painting has a lifeof its own. I tryto let between himself ('the painting it come through.It is onlywhen I lose contactwiththe painting thatthe result is a mess')48 it was the early Gutai paintings that emphasisedthe action over
136 OXFORD ART JOURNAL 26.2 2003

This content downloaded from on Thu, 26 Sep 2013 10:51:28 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

1954-1957 EarlyGutaiPainting,

'Koi koso' 49. Kazuo Shiraga, [JustAction], Gutai,no. 3, p. 22. 50. Ratcliff citestwo instances wherePollock made physical withthe canvascontact actually Pollock'shandprints are visiblein Number 1A Mist(1950). Ratcliff, Fate, (1948) and Lavender p. 110. 51. Pollock,'My Painting'. 52. RosalindKrauss,'ReadingPhotographs as New York, Text', in Pollock: (Agrinde: Painting 1978). 53. See Krauss,'ReadingPhotographs'.

in thethird issueof evenurged theresults produced bytheaction.As Shiraga ofthe materials so that traces have 'let's the theGutai dead,inorganic journal, the this it can be assumed that death action From comment, return.'49 clearly ofthepainting, which wasa concern feared ofPollock's, wasnotsomething by the Gutai. Pollock'sconcernforthe painting is tangible, even paternal in He wanted to maintain with the nature. intimate contact he paintings conceived. WhilePollock a kind maintained ofreverence forthesanctity ofthecanvas if ever, came into contactwiththe canvas,Murakami, space and rarely, it as a siteforplay.50 and the otherGutaipainters treated For the Shiraga, was nota protected werenotsubject to the Gutai,thecanvas spaceandthey as Pollock ofcontext, waswith constraints to theideaoftheframe. As regard a function their of the whimsical behind the Gutai had no works, impetus their bodieswithin theframe ofthecanvas or through qualmsaboutinserting thecanvas.The actions of the Gutaiaptly verified critic HaroldRosenberg's idea of thecanvasas arenaof activity. Pollockfelthe couldbe in a Though around a canvas tacked to the mudbath is a floor, byworking painting Shiraga's moreradical manifestation ofRosenberg's idea as thecanvas as serves literally a physical location forhisstruggles.51 Arthistorian Rosalind Kraussarguedthatbefore Pollock,otherpaintings were organised around themoreconventional viewthat'painting' a picture was in facta minor of a to Pollock this aspect 'creating' picture.'52 Applied was certainly he and like true; equalised process productby allotting to both.The Gutaidid nothavethisequalisation in mind because importance in contrast withPollock, who Krauss asserts hada closeaffinity to thecanvas, theGutaihad no regard forthecanvas saveas a useful or receptacle receptor fortheir actions.53 The canvas itself was incidental, evenirrelevant, and any to receiveaction. expanseof space would do so longas it had the capacity UnlikePollock'svigorous canvases which theonlooker with actively engaged theircontinuation of motionthrough of lines,the early rhythmic patterns oftheGutaiwereconsiderably morepassive. paintings Theywerenotworks ofartintended for as such, butrecords ofactivity, a much more contemplation fadedversion of thevisceral that created the in works the first energy place. or more accurately, the results of the actions, ManyearlyGutaipaintings, were not even exhibited as suchuntilTapie's arrival, whichthe following Gutaicommitted to a more conventional of forthose Save style painting. works madebythosemembers oftheGutaibefore their Gutaidays, theearly lack a sense of or coherence in their as seen in the paintings unity composition of some of where several colours are example Shiraga'sfoot-paintings laid on of one if another as he with one colour, sequentially top experimented becameboredor dissatisfied withtheresult and decidedto tryanother. The boldstrokes ofpaint do notinteract with eachother as in thedelicate web-like framework seenin Pollock's works. Neither do theearly Gutai seem paintings to havebeen applied withthekindof careful deliberation that compositional canbe discerned in Pollock'smassive Ifthepaintings canvases. are assessed in conventional that as works of art made to terms, is, purely byapplying paint canvas,the works of Pollock and the Gutai are qualitatively different, a similar notwithstanding processof creation. Thissaid,I do notwantadvocate another extreme andarguethat theearly Gutaipaintings werepurely that akin action-driven, is, performances to Allan and other artists in Happenings. While Kaprowsaw the Kaprow engaging as an international of movement theGutai's sorts, Happenings encompassing works as well as thosein theUS and Europe,theGutaineverintended their
OXFORD ART JOURNAL 26.2 2003 137

This content downloaded from on Thu, 26 Sep 2013 10:51:28 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


works to comprise or be partofanymovement, their mission to given singular what considered as pursue they Kaprow's conceptionof originality. as an alternative kind of movement or even genre can be Happenings his in his 1961 evidenced discussion of its difference vis-a-vis theatre by long and the New York the other Scene'.4 On hand,however, essay'Happenings the Gutaiwere clearly interested in theatre and the notionof spectacle as denotedby theirwillingness to be photographed. For all theirinterest in the Gutai,for the most part,focusedtheir interdisciplinary explorations, the medium of practice upon paintand theact of painting. A compelling theenduring interest oftheGutaiin example demonstrating themechanics of mark-making is theexhibition of Murakami's Muttsu no ana and later 11 Tsuka and [SixHoles](1955) (Fig. 10) (1956) (Figs. 12). [Passage] This workwas createdwhen the artist plungedinto a seriesof six paper his mad rush,the tornpanelswere not put away,but screens.Following instead were prominently at the front of the gallery displayed space to be the in viewer. These holes were with contemplated by displayed conjunction of the untouched was a there before-and-after canvas; pristine, photographs effect thatunderscored thesequential nature of thework.Thisphotographic exhibition viewers to ask whatwas it thatcreated representation prompted thesecavernous, and there was an emphasis on the action, holes, gaping the action could be although only properly appreciated by viewingits Murakami became the mediumthatmade the mark; he documentation. becamethe 'paint'of his painting whenhe ran through his walls of paper. Yoshihara notes the experience of becoming this 'paint' during the 1955 in TokyowhenMurakami exhibition invited himto open the exhibition by a panelofgoldfoil which covered themouth oftheexhibition running through I shotmyself thepaper,I hearda great space: 'themoment through bang,for the layersof paper were stretched so tightly like a diaphragm of a large This experience of becoming the mark-making tool himself, drum.'55 was, to an essential of with the for Murakami, art, according part communicating

of California ed. Jeff Life, Kelley(University Press: Berkeley and London, 1993), pp. 18-19.
Exhibition', Gutai, no. 4, p. 4.

Allan Kaprow, Essayson the Blurringof Art and

in the New York Scene' in 54. 'Happenings

55. JiroYoshihara, 'On the FirstGutai

Muttsu noana [Sixholes], 1955, performance. (Photo: Fig.10. SaburoMurakami, Ashiya City ofArt and History, Museum Makiko andtheformer members oftheGutai Murakami, Group.) 138 OXFORDARTJOURNAL 26.2 2003

This content downloaded from on Thu, 26 Sep 2013 10:51:28 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

1954-1957 EarlyGutaiPainting,

vol. 6, Bunka, [Short Essayon Gutai]in Biyuku November1957. 57. Osaki, 'Body and Place: Actionin Postwar Artin Japan',in OutofAction,p. 149. of the October 58. The Gutaisentphotographs 1955 exhibition in Tokyo to Life, which the magazine to send a photographer prompted of the Gutai fromSingapore to takephotographs worksfrom5 to 8 April1956. The worksthey in photographing included were interested a recreation of Doozo, Shiraga's mud-wrestling, destruction of paper. In 'Life sa and Murakami's
no Gutai bijutsusyassei' [Life's Photographs of

56. Saburo Murakami, 'Gutai kaiga shoron'

no. 5, p. 25. GutaiArt],Gutai,

koto'[Things I 59. Toshio Yoshida,'Yattemitai Want To Dol, Gutai, no. 2, p. 30.

Tsuka Murakami, [Passage], Fig.11. Saburo 1956, performance. (Photo: Ashiya City and History, Makiko Museum ofArt Murakami, oftheGutai members andtheformer Group.)

Tsuka [Passage], Fig.12. SaburoMurakami, 1956, performance. (Photo: City Ashiya Makiko ofArt and History, Museum Murakami, members oftheGutai andtheformer Group.)

of its the vitality appreciationof the work was dependent on understanding than the the end was less maker.56 important process, there product Although was an implicitacknowledgment thatthe mark was crucial to the creationof the work. In this sense, the early Gutai paintingsdivergedfromHappeningsbecause there was an awareness of the importance of the mark left behind subsequent to the action executed. Returningto Osaki, he states that the Gutai leftmany objects as opposed to artistswho engaged in Happenings.57 But here his qualitativeuse of the word 'objects' is problematic if for no to the idea of a finishedpaintingexclusively other reason than its affinity intended for post hoc contemplation, something that the early Gutai painingswere clearlynot. Still, the residual mark was intendedto be shown along with the performance. As individuals, the Gutai painterspursued a policy of un-self-consciousness but as a group, publicitywas necessaryin order to expand the magnitudeof to the single,or series of actions. In contrastto Pollock who foundit difficult invited the in of a and front Shimamoto,among others, camera, Shiraga paint press to watch their actions in which they made their works a site of as in Shiraga's 1956 recreationof Doozo intendedforinclusionin performance, It was also necessaryto release what Toshio Yoshida noted as Lifemagazine.58 the 'artisticinstinctto want to show one's pictures to as many people as possible.'59This was true even ifsome Gutai memberssuch as Shimamotoand was positive withwhetherthe publicity Murakamidid not concernthemselves was irrelevant:'what otherstell you is or negative.The natureof the publicity preferableto do is not important.The importantthingis to liberate one's desire into a form of freedom throughone's own mode of expression.'60 forthe Gutai in which became a sort of catharsis accordingly Seekingpublicity the search for an audience through their elaborately staged exhibitions, of the early providedthem with an outlet forthisinstinct.Many photographs are blurred, while exhibitions,such as those taken of the actions-in-progress otherssuch as Murakami's 'six holes' work were actuallyposed photographs The activesearchforpublicity the occurrenceof the action.61 place after taking and an audience corroboratesthe Gutai emphasisupon process. In addition, connote a process of spectacularisand performances the elaborateexhibitions to the process as opposed to the attention action intended to draw greater ing finished painting. Ironicallyenough, it would be the Gutai's desire of exposure, particularly in theirpractice. shift a definitive international exposure, thatwould facilitate After 1957, the Gutai gradually abandoned their actions in favour of on JiroYoshihara,who modes of painting as per Tapie's influence conventional felt that the Gutai could obtain increased recognitionthroughconventional painting.As Yoshiharaand the other membersbecame more concerned with the act of exhibitionfor a consciously acknowledged audience, the Gutai imposed by societal and audience paintingsarguablyfell into the constraints in the first to that tried place. In spite of this, the escape expectations they Gutai paintersdemonstratedtheirbrillianceby fusinga myriadof strategies thatgave theirworks complexityfroma conceptual perspectivebut managed to be disarmingly simple in appearance. They accomplished this througha of play which was predicatedon the disavowal of self-consciousness, strategy to concentrate selfish ambition,and pretencewhichenabled the youngpainters on action ratherthan the finished product. This focus on whimsyand play the creative process from which the early Gutai particularly distinguished works were made from other stylistically similar,but ultimately divergent,

This content downloaded from on Thu, 26 Sep 2013 10:51:28 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


movements. Rephrased, in followingtheir self-imposedmandate to pursue to the young Gutai painterswere chargedwith the responsibility originality, invent new strategiesof expression, the pursuit of which resulted in the voice withinthe panoplyof avant-garde developmentof a distinct practice,in Japanand elsewhere.

of Action], Wastebasket no. 4, p. 13. Gutai,

60. Saburo Murakami, 'Koi no gomi bakko' [The

to MizuhoKato forpointing 61. I am grateful thisout to me.

140 OXFORD ART JOURNAL 26.2 2003

This content downloaded from on Thu, 26 Sep 2013 10:51:28 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Related Interests