Organized by Midori Nishizawa
An exhibition of works by renowned Japanese artists Atsuko Tanaka and Akira Kanayama will take place at the Paula Cooper Gallery at 465 West 23rd Street, from January 15 through February 16, 2008. This is the first exhibition of Akira Kanayama’s early work in the United States, and the second exhibition of Atsuko Tanaka’s work at Paula Cooper Gallery.
Both Tanaka (1932 – 2005) and Kanayama (1924 – 2006), two of Japan’s best-known artists, were members of the Gutai Bijutsu Kyokai (Gutai Art Association), an avant-garde art group founded in 1954 in Osaka with the mission to create “an art which has never existed before.” As members of the group, they became famous for seminal pieces with which they remain associated today: Tanaka’s Electric Dress (1956), a jumble of electric cables and lit-up colored lightbulbs which she wore like a garment; and Kanayama’s four-wheel remote control device which enabled him to create automatic Remote-Control Paintings (1955). The artists married and left the group in the mid-1960s, and continued their artistic careers (at a steady pace in Tanaka’s case, in Kanayama’s case more intermittently) through the beginning of the 2000s.
The exhibition will present Tanaka’s Work (1955), a piece consisting of three sheets of yellow cotton pinned directly to the wall. The piece belongs to a series of cloth pieces made in the mid-1950s, when the artist was searching for a new form of painting. A closer inspection of the piece’s edges reveals how the artist made one or two cuts of 4 inches or less on each sheet and then patched or glued them back together. The piece draws attention to the artist’s concern for borders and surfaces and for the relationship of pictorial space with actual space. First shown at the “8th Ashiya City Art Exhibition” (June 1955), Work was recently included in a traveling survey of Tanaka’s work which opened at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery (September – December, 2004). Most recently, the piece was exhibited at Documenta 12 in Kassel, Germany (June – September, 2007).
The exhibition will also present a small selection of early works by Akira Kanayama, including watercolors and ink on paper works created in 1952-54, before the creation of Gutai, at a time when the artist belonged, along with Kazuo Shiraga, Saburo Murakami and Tanaka, to the Zero Group, a collective of artists interested in abstraction. The minimal drawings, striking for their resonance with contemporary and later abstract works in Europe and the United States, show a similar concern for the edges of the picture, their short perpendicular marks acting as indentations or gradations into the pictorial space.
Kanayama often said that he and Tanaka were the only members of Gutai not interested in “action” and preferred to describe their work as “conceptual.” The show provides an opportunity to get acquainted with the rarely-exhibited work of these celebrated artists and to discover their shared sensibility outside the context of Gutai with which they are so often associated.
Organized by Midori Nishizawa, with an essay by Mizuho Kato, Curator at the Ashiya City Museum of Art and History, Japan.