The Gutai Group

The Gutai Group Collage
Started: 1954
Ended: 1972
Discarding the frame, getting off the walls, shifting from immobile time to lived time, we aspire to create a new painting.
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Saburo Murakami
We have decided to pursue enthusiastically the possibilities of pure creativity. We believe that by merging human qualities and material properties, we can concretely comprehend abstract space.
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Jirõ Yoshihara, 'The Gutai Art Manifesto'
Gutai Art does not alter matter. Gutai Art imparts life to matter. Gutai Art does not distort matter.
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Jirõ Yoshihara, 'The Gutai Art Manifesto'
As totalitarianism fails in politics, in culture, too, anything inconveniently totalitarian should disappear.
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Kazuo Shiraga, 'The Establishment of the Individual'
We are following the path that will lead to an international common ground where the arts of the east and the west influence each other. And this is the natural course of the history of art.
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Jirõ Yoshihara

Summary of The Gutai Group

This Japanese movement represented a radical and energetic approach to artmaking that encompassed performance, painting, installation, and theatrical events, taking advantage of the freedoms available in their newly democratic homeland. They sought and achieved an extraordinary level of international recognition, collaborated with and strongly influenced conceptual and performance artists that came after them, and are now considered to mark one of the most important moments in post-war Japanese culture.

Key Ideas & Accomplishments

Overview of The Gutai Group

The Gutai Group Image

Japan in the 1950s was in a process of renewal after being ravaged by the Second World War, and diplomatic relations with the West - especially America after its occupation of the country came to an end in 1952 - were rapidly becoming reestablished. This new internationalism had a strong impact on Japan's cultural scene, and it was against this backdrop of young democracy and a growing belief in individual freedom that Jirõ Yoshihara was inspired to found the Gutai Art Association in the affluent town of Ashiya, near Osaka in Japan, in 1954.

Important Art and Artists of The Gutai Group

Kazuo Shiraga: Challenge To The Mud (1955)

Challenge To The Mud (1955)

Artist: Kazuo Shiraga

Kazuo Shiraga's seminal 'performance painting' featured the artist flinging himself, half naked, into a pile of clay, where he writhed and slipped around in the material while sculpting shapes from it - thus creating a picture using his whole body. Challenge To The Mud explored the place where physical action (represented by Shiraga wrestling in the clay) and 'matter' (the clay itself) collide. The pile of mud was left in situ after the performance for the show's duration, and presented as an artwork in its own right. Shiraga initially conceived the work as an expanded painting, and it predated his related 'rope hanging' performances in which he created exuberant canvases by dipping his feet in paint while suspended above or walking directly on them.

Saburõ Murakami: Laceration of Paper (1956)

Laceration of Paper (1956)

Artist: Saburõ Murakami

Saburõ Murakami's Laceration of Paper involved the artist hurling himself through a series of enormous kraft paper screens. The tautly stretched paper produced loud, explosive sounds as Murakami punched his way through each sheet as quickly as possible, releasing and reveling in its material properties. This piece embodies the Gutai artists' desire to go far beyond the limits of the canvas to produce encounters between the human spirit and the substance of matter itself. Murakami restaged Laceration of Paper several times with the last performance in 1994, two years before his death.

Jirõ Yoshihara: Please Draw Freely (1956)

Please Draw Freely (1956)

Artist: Jirõ Yoshihara

In Please Draw Freely, Gutai founder Jirõ Yoshihara invited visitors to the Outdoor Gutai Art Exhibition to create a collective artwork on a large, blank board. A sign by the work encouraged the public to express themselves without inhibition, and markers and pens were provided. The exhibition took place in the main park in the Japanese city of Ashiya, and was conceived as a totally democratic art event that would appeal to a general audience. With Please Draw Freely, Yoshihara wanted to reject passive spectatorship and quiet contemplation of artworks, and instead invite people of all ages to engage with art directly and experience being part of the creative process themselves - to make spectators into producers.

Useful Resources on The Gutai Group

Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"The Gutai Group Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. .
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 03 Nov 2015. Updated and modified regularly
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