In the aftermath of World War II, many young artists in Japan—as in Europe and the United States—challenged themselves to rethink their inherited artistic and pictorial traditions. Recognizing this growing cultural foment, in 1954 Jirō Yoshihara (1905-1972) rallied a number of such artists together in the city of Ashiya, a suburb of Osaka, to start the avant-garde group known as the Gutai Art Association. As one of the formative groups to emerge from postwar Japan, it aimed to “bring matter to life” and liberate the individual through artistic freedom of expression. Motivated by Yoshihara’s calls to “not imitate others” and to “create what has never been done before,” the members of Gutai produced work using unusual materials and techniques, such as throwing bottles of paint, wrestling in mud, and breaking through paper screens.

Above all else, the Gutai Art Association emphasized originality as its core tenet. This imperative was made manifest at the Gutai Art Association’s 1955 debut exhibition, titled Experimental Outdoor Exhibition of Modern Art to Challenge the Midsummer Sun. The ambitious exhibition took place in the spacious pine grove of Ashiya Park and featured many ephemeral, site-specific works of installation art with the aim of taking “art out from closed rooms into the open air . . . exposing the works to the natural forces of sun, wind, and rain.” Gutai exhibitions often took place in uncon­ventional settings, including outdoors and onstage, prefiguring later Happenings, performance, and conceptual art in the West.

Excerpt from

  • Label text, Gutai, Between Action and the Unknown: The Art of Kazuo Shiraga and Sadamasa Motonaga, 2015.

  • and 'Experimental Works' exhibition labels for Shiraga/Motonaga exhibition. Exhibition labels on TAZ.

Web Resources