September 14, 2004

Gutai Artists

by Mary Flanagan · , 11:23 pm

Atsuko Tanaka and Akira Kanayama, two members of the Gutai movement in Japan, spoke tonight at the Japan Society in nyc. Amazing talk. For those of you who may not know, Gutai was an art movement, based in Japan, that asked many of the same questions that fluxus, conceptual artists, and I daresay new media artists ask(ed), but very early in the scheme of things… Begun in 1955 (!) with a big two week event in the suburbs outside of Osaka, Gutai was proclaimed as an experiment : to take art outside the closed inside and expose the works to the outside, to sun wind and rain. A bunch of teens and young artists took over a pine grove park and staged a 13 day exhibition of paintings, gigantic sculptures created from abandoned machinery, and other unusual objects and performances. Atsuko Tanaka, one of the first women conceptual artists (ok, yes I know putting myself on the chopper here) put out a large pink bubble gum vinyl sheet to ripple in the wind. With the zero artists, Gutai members demonstrate a very early strain of conceptualism. Another member, Saburo Murakami, would take a ball, dip it in ink, and toss it against a wall… trying to invent a “new painting” using the “feel” of velocity. According to Alexandra Munroe, host of the talk and interviewee, GUTAI means “tool and body” – the element of performance is a strong strategy in many of the works.

This work and these artists are tremendously inspiring, and the event was particularly important to me as I teach a little about Gutai in my Understanding New Media class at Hunter College. However, until tonight I had little knowledge of the depth of these two artists’ work with electronics and the movements’ relationship to technology.

In addition, I had read much more about Akira Kanayama’s work (you may know documentation of his famous 1950s happening-like performance of breaking through paper, the exact name of which escapes me at the moment), and much less about Atsuko Tanaka, who, along with Yoko Ono and Alison Knowles (and Carolee Schneeman, were among the few women artists involved in this important part of the development on conceptual art, and in my their work, while little exposed, is among the most engaging).

(I asked a question about the spirit of play and gaming methodologies, but no one could really translate my question so that the artists understood what I meant!!! So, these theories I keep to myself.)

Some of the work of Tanaka and Kanayama is showing (in a rare US appearance) at the Grey Gallery in nyc.