(24 August 2023, Hong Kong) Whitestone Gallery is honored to present Action!, a duo exhibition showcasing works by two pivotal members of the remarkable avant-garde art collective Gutai Art Association: Shozo Shimamoto and Kazuo Shiraga. As Japan’s first radical postwar artistic movement, the Gutai Art Association rejected tradition in favor of performative expression and physical engagement with a wide variety of techniques and materials, established a space for intercultural and interdisciplinary exchanges, and strived to raise the visibility and awareness of Japanese art in the international art scene.
“Even if my method seems shocking and violent – crushing bottles and shooting cannons at the canvas – because I am an artist, my purpose is to make the work beautiful, to show the beauty of everything. I’m just working on creating beauty.”
As the co-founder of Gutai, the publisher of Gutai Bulletin, and later as the leader of AU (Art Unidentified), Shozo Shimamoto (1928 – 2013) was committed to establishing a network with international artists. Appropriating the developing art theory of the 1960s Abstract Expressionism and Ephemeral Art, Shimamoto’s practice often involved smashing and throwing vases and bottles filled with paint on the canvas, referred to as action painting. Like other avant-garde movements of the post-war era, the rejection of the painting and representational forms within art was a significant leitmotif for the Gutai group. Shimamoto’s destructive intervention with the canvas perfectly embodied the spirit of the movement, which favored concept over form, seeking to expand the notion of art beyond the boundaries of traditional painting, and his practice was furthermore fundamentally shaped by action painting. He says what draws the audience’s attention is what contains “unknown beauty.” Thus he repeated formative experiments in search of new art within non-art. The essence in the art of Shimamoto, which can be understood as the trace of Action itself, ultimately embodies the spirit of Gutai and contributes to attracting international attention to the Japanese contemporary art scene.
“How can an action by me, a living body, confront a dead material? I should use lifeless materials to make the trace of Action concrete.”
As the breakout star of the Gutai Art Association at the time, Kazuo Shiraga (1924 – 2008) pursued a rapport between “body” and “matter” that anticipated a conceptual rubric that married theory with practice. Though abstract, his works are read through the themes of Japanese cultural history and Eastern mythology and, later, through more spiritual ideas related to his mid-life conversion to Buddhism. Quickly establishing himself as a pioneer in “performance painting,” Shiraga became colloquially known as the “foot painter.” After his 1955 performance “Challenging Mud,” in which the artist wrestled a mixture of cement, gravel, clay, plaster, pebbles, and twigs into a “formless form,” Shiraga devised an entirely new painting technique. From 1959 onward, he suspended himself from his studio ceiling, swung back and forth, and manipulated the paint exclusively with his ten toes to create a range of textures. As expected, this action required a high degree of physical exertion and personal pain that came with the lacerations and bruises on his body. Referencing the ancient Japanese sumo wrestling tradition and the bond between the artist and the natural environment, the violence of the gestures is synonymous with the fight for individuality and creative freedom in post-war Japan, in which the body itself became the site and literal embodiment of emancipation.
By showcasing Shozo Shimamoto and Kazuo Shiraga in juxtaposition, the exhibition highlights the legacy of the Gutai spirit, tracing the thread of Action in the radical and poetic works of two postwar Japanese masters who exploited different mediums and created fresh art-historical dialogue through their innovative approaches to matter and individuation.
Exhibition period: 24 August – 14 September 2023
Opening reception: 4 – 7pm, 24 August (Thursday)
Whitestone Gallery is open from Tuesday to Saturday, 11 am to 7 pm
(Sunday by appointment only, closed on Monday and public holidays)
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+852 2523 8001