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The Gutai Group Artworks

The Gutai Group Collage

Started: 1954

Ended: 1972

Artworks and Artists of The Gutai Group

The below artworks are the most important in The Gutai Group - that both overview the major ideas of the movement, and highlight the greatest achievements by each artist in The Gutai Group. Don't forget to visit the artist overview pages of the artists that interest you.

Challenge To The Mud (1955)

By: 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.

Laceration of Paper (1956)

By: 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.

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Please Draw Freely (1956)

By: 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.

Electric Dress (1956)

By: Atsuko Tanaka

Electric Dress was a magnificent costume made from flashing, incandescent light bulbs painted vibrant red, green, yellow, and blue. Atsuko Tanaka was inspired by the new, neon-filled Japanese cityscapes of the 1950s, and she was one of the first Gutai artists whose practice merged contemporary technology and art. The piece was designed to be worn for performance, and was capable of giving small electric shocks to its wearer - allowing them an unmediated encounter with the material properties of the light bulbs. It was shown together with Tanaka's drawings reminiscent of wiring diagrams, and it aimed to create an e (expanded picture) rather than a kaiga (traditional painting) of moving form and color - an artwork whose goal was "the expulsion of the frame."

Work (1957)

By: Akira Kanayama

This is one of a series of Akira Kanayama's works in which he used tubes of paint or felt-tip pens affixed to a remote-controlled toy car to create his own brand of action painting - a direct homage to the legacy of Abstract Expressionism, particularly Jackson Pollock's drip technique. The resulting piece has a strong, frenetic rhythm and deliberate yet loose mark-making that seem remarkably reminiscent of works Pollock had been producing less than a decade earlier. Kanayama, however, was actually offering a playful critique of Pollock by producing such intentionally similar works by mechanical means, thus rejecting the psychological and personal factors that Pollock had emphasized. Kanayama used the simple title Work for the painting, as did many other Gutai artists, a sign of their complete rejection of representational art and their refusal to tell the viewer what to think.

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Bisexual Flower (1969)

By: Minoru Yoshido

Incorporating glowing plexiglass, ultraviolet tubes, electric motors, water, and deafening whirring sounds, Minoru Yoshido's room-sized kinetic sculpture is erotic and incredibly joyful. Shown in a darkened space, the piece glows psychedelically; with its curved plastic 'limbs' scooping, dipping, and bobbing rhythmically, the work resembles a crazed chemistry experiment involving futuristic plants. A central theme in Yoshido's practice was a fascination with modern technology's potential for both progress and danger - perfectly illustrated by the visionary and ominous Bisexual Flower. The sculpture was first shown as part of the Gutai section of Expo '70, a world fair held in Osaka in 1970 in which the group showed a vast number of new, technologically-themed works. It particularly stood out as one of the few exhibits to radically reflect on the cultural and environmental costs of technological advancements.

Holes (1954)

By: Shozo Shimamoto

Shimamoto began Holes in either 1949 or 1950. It was made using layers of glued newspaper, brown paper, and paint pierced forcefully in several places - a technique the artist hit upon by accident when he discovered that the makeshift, homemade newspaper canvases he was using as an economical version of the real thing pierced easily when still wet. The resulting painting is both beautiful with its delicate, traditionally Japanese hues, yet harsh with Shimamoto's defacing of the image's surface. This work is one of a series that anticipated the later slashed canvases of spatialist and arte povera artist Lucio Fontana.

Work (1970)

By: Senkichiro Nasaka and Michio Yoshihara

This collaborative installation was produced for Expo '70, the first Asian world fair. It was made from a 150-meter-long metal pipe that provided a frame for works by other Gutai artists along its whole length, with a sound piece by Michio Yoshihara also playing through the structure. This monumental work changed the entire exhibition space into a total art environment and articulated the movement's ongoing interest in collaboration as a practice. Gutai's inclusion in the fair was a sign that they had achieved serious recognition as the leading artistic movement of 20th century Japan.

Circle (1971)

By: Jirõ Yoshihara

This is one of Yoshihara's iconic Circle series, which he started in 1965 and continued to add to until his death seven years later. Painted on a flat, black background, the white circle looks as if it has been painted in one huge stroke. Yoshihara's persistent concern with the circle as a motif stemmed from an interest in the calligraphy of Nantenbo - an early-20th-century monk who created multiple ensos, or 'one stroke circles'. At the same time, Yoshihara was becoming more involved with the avant-garde calligraphy magazine Bokubi, which influenced him to use the technique in his own paintings. The circle series is also an exploration of gesture that moved away from the expressive, painterly style of his earlier works. Though it appears splashy and spontaneous, Circle was actually built up slowly and deliberately in successive layers of oil paint.

Related Movements and Major Works

Yard (1961)

Artist: Allan Kaprow (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

Kaprow created Yard for the Martha Jackson Gallery’s sculpture garden exhibition, Environment - Situations - Spaces. In this seminal work he recreated a junkyard, an immersive environment with which the audience interacted. This work contained a high element of play, but within the boundaries Kaprow had prefixed. The piece illustrates sculpture's expansion in scale and the increasingly blurred boundaries between a "life like" and an "art like" art. In Kaprow's determination, there was no distinction between the viewer and the artwork; the viewer became part of the piece.

A Chair with a History (1966)

Movement: Happenings (Read Movement Overview, History, and Artworks pages)

Artist: George Brecht

A Chair with a History by George Brecht consisted of a chair that he bought and a red leather bound book placed on the seat of the chair. The viewer was invited to add to the "history" of the chair by sitting in it and recording the events taking place in the leather bound book. Brecht was greatly influenced by Marcel Duchamp's views on chance, clearly seen in this piece: whatever is recorded in the book has no relation to the artist's intentions or goals and is entirely in the hands of the viewer. Brecht's projects were often more intimate in scale than other artists who put on Happenings, as seen here with the piece entirely focused on a simple chair, the solitary act of sitting and writing, and the focus on a single person's experience.

Licking Piece (1964)

Movement: Fluxus (Read Movement Overview, History, and Artworks pages)

Artist: Benjamin Patterson

The sly directions for Patterson's Licking Piece state, "cover shapely female with whipped cream, lick, topping of chopped nuts and cherries is optional." As in Ono's Cut Piece, again the boundary between viewer and artwork is removed. Here the frisson of sexual tension is made nearly grotesquely apparent (the act of licking, the specifics that it be a "shapely female"). It is not the artist who is made vulnerable, it is his "shapely female" he puts in a fairly uncomfortable position. The piece was performed on several occasions, touching on the subjects of the erotic, objectification, and misogyny.

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