Japanese Gutai within the 1950s: Fast and Fearless

In the 1950s, the artists of the newly shaped Gutai group of Japan labored quick and fearlessly, altering types and mediums at will, staying abreast of the newest postwar developments overseas. The temper of this band of innovators was eclectic — and electrical — as demonstrated by “Gutai: 1953-1959,” an bold present at Fergus McCaffery gallery. Across some 70 works we see 13 of the artists who shaped the group’s early repute, ranging simply amongst summary portray and sculpture, set up, environments and efficiency.

The McCaffery effort is so massive that it has taken over the cavernous area subsequent door (previously the Robert Miller Gallery) and at instances looks like a collection of solo exhibits. Some works right here date from 1953 and helped spur the formation of Gutai a 12 months later by a number of artists born primarily within the 1920s and led by an elder artist, Jiro Yoshihara (1905-1972). They excelled at hybrids and experimenting with supplies, exemplified by the performative work that Kazuo Shiraga (1924-2008) made along with his ft, often whereas suspended from a swing, reaching extravagant ridges and ruts of swirling paint. One uncommon work involving a brown sponge hiding a bonelike object invited viewer participation: “Please Push Strong.” (You can now not contact, however there’s a video that exhibits Mr. McCaffery doing so in white gloves, and Mr. Shiraga creating his swinging work.)

Perhaps not shocking in a rustic famend for calligraphy, a number of of those artists (Mr. Shiraga included) most likely did extra with Jackson Pollock’s allover compositions and progressive drip strategies than their American counterparts. In New York, youthful painters sought inspiration within the simpler possibility, the extra conventional paint dealing with of Willem de Kooning; a chief exception was the short-term transplant Yayoi Kusama, who, like her fellow Japanese artists, prolonged his concepts. (And whether or not by selection or financial pressures, the Gutai hardly ever labored in a big scale, avoiding macho overstatement, which is refreshing.)

You’ll see the affect of calligraphy in two summary work by the nice Masatoshi Masanobu: black surfaces lined with delicate curls and loops of cream coloration. In a smaller, equally beguiling work, he dabs cream over two shades of crimson after which provides extra life with a whole lot of quick fast scratches moderately like whiskers. Chiyu Uemae (one in all three girls within the present), has a number of approaches. In a barely unnerving portray, bits of vivid coloration shine by a tough layer of brown paint; the impact is of buried jewels but additionally radiantly winged bugs squirming to life, just under floor.

Entering the present is an act of Gutai participation: You need to step by a jagged gap in gold paper stretched throughout the gallery’s doorway. This is the newest remake of Saburo Murakami’s famous “Entrance,” on the First Gutai Art Exhibition in Tokyo in 1955, through which he burst by a number of layers of paper that then grew to become a murals. (At the opening of this present in April, Alexandra Munroe, a curator of the Guggenheim Museum’s sweeping survey, “Gutai: Splendid Playground” in 2013, flung her body through gold-leafed Japanese paper.)

Other Murakami works right here veer from Abstract Expressionist to Fluxus to Conceptual Art. His 1956 “Air,” an eight-inch-square dice of clear glass, is each a startling precursor and sendup of Minimalism; “All Landscapes,” additionally 1956, has you wanting by an empty body hanging from the ceiling, a Fluxus joke. But he was additionally making closely slathered work that he supposed to disintegrate, as demonstrated by a crimson portray right here that’s lacking a central chunk.

Sometimes this present fills in backgrounds on a specific artist. Toshio Yoshida was represented by seven of his wooden panels burned with patterns, all from 1954, on the Guggenheim. These works, which parallel in the event that they don’t anticipate the burned canvases of the Italian artist Alberto Burri, are, I suppose, Yoshida’s finest guess for posterity. But the McCaffery present contains 10 extra work, every totally different, registering the artist’s restlessness. Silk cords dangle from one portray; one other, on crimson velvet, entails massive daubs of concrete. My favourite appears at first to have a garland of vivid flowers round its edges, however a better look reveals patches of coloration on a floor of brown papier-mâché on burned wooden with a gap within the middle. It suggests a packed-earth flooring strewn with petals — in addition to an ingenuous technique to save paint whereas commenting on Japan’s postwar poverty.

Sadamasa Motonaga’s work makes a equally memorable impression of fixed movement. An enormous white field periodically spews fog; the 2 massive slurry inexperienced types on a bigger canvas could be an summary tribute to Edvard Munch. In a pile of sand, two slim tree trunks bristle with scores of nails. Brightly painted stones with a row of quick straws resemble a herd of small finned reptiles, but additionally weapons.

The revered Atsuko Tanaka, whose gown constructed from coloured gentle bulbs was one of many highlights of the Guggenheim present, is represented right here by “Work (Bell)” of 1955, an interactive set up with 12 bells put in across the area that buzz when somebody steps on their flooring buttons. The wiring for this piece helped encourage Tanaka’s curiosity in electrical energy.

Fujiko Shiraga, spouse of the paint-by-feet Kazuo Shiraga, is represented by five-foot-high drawings of layered rice paper that the artist has scratched along with her fingernails or torn in several methods. They’re without delay deeply Japanese and in keeping with a few of Robert Rauschenberg’s early ’50s white and black work. One piece that particularly intrigues is “White Board” of 1955 — a sloping 26-foot-long plank of wooden almost 4 ft vast and bisected by an irregular crack. It could possibly be like a mannequin for an earthwork by Walter De Maria or Dennis Oppenheim, in addition to “Shibboleth,” Doris Salcedo’s 548-foot-long crack within the flooring of the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2007.

Aesthetic concepts drift within the air, utilized by one artist after which discarded, reabsorbed by one other, in keeping with ambition, means and alternatives. The unhappy factor, no less than for artwork, is that in 1961 Ms. Shiraga stopped making her personal visionary artwork to work intently along with her husband. Perhaps their efforts benefit double billing.

Gutai: 1953-1959
Through June 30 at Fergus McCaffrey Gallery, 514 West 26th Street, Chelsea; 212-988-2200, fergusmccaffrey.com.

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