gutai: splendid playground

Motonaga Sadamasa, “Work [Water]” (1956/2011)
Motonaga Sadamasa, “Work [Water]” (1956/2011)
Yesterday I went with a friend to view the “Gutai: Splendid Playground” exhibition at the Guggenheim. Started in the mid-1950s, the Gutai group was a postwar movement of artists in Japan, which included fine art, performance and film. My friend remarked that she loved the title of the exhibition, and seeing the crowd, it was aptly chosen, because there were dozens of families there with small children who were fascinated by and engaged with some of the more (and sometimes not-intentionally!) tactile or video-oriented works.

Admittedly, I was not terribly familiar with this movement. Having studied visual art, I had taken my fair share of art history courses, but there was a predominantly Western/Eurocentric focus, especially when it came to modern art. The few times Asian art was covered was in reference to classical period / traditional / religious works, so this was a great opportunity that the Guggenheim provided, to learn more about them.

Curling upwards through the cylindrical progression of the museum, I saw pieces that reminded me of Western artists such as Joan Miró and Jackson Pollock, but often created through more unconventional methods. Kazuo Shiraga, for example, applied paint solely with his feet, creating large-scale pieces of broad, continuous strokes, and Akira Kanayama built small remote-controlled vehicles to aid in his curvilinear drip abstractions. There was a standout piece by Kumiko Imanaka that laboriously applied hundreds of thin, wavy, colored metal strips in a successive rotating pattern, creating a fantastic optical illusion that appeared to shift as you walked past it.

Actually, many of these works displayed carried on the theme of circular, modern and minimal…how perfectly complementary that they should be shown at the Guggenheim, a venue that is all those things! “Gutai: Splendid Playground” is on view through Wednesday, May 8.

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