Through May 8, 2013
“Color is taking it easy at the start of the Guggenheim Museum’s “Gutai: Splendid Playground,” a mind-shifting exhibition about Japan’s best-known postwar art movement. From the entrance you can see it almost lolling about overhead in the form of jewel-like dollops of water tinted red, yellow blue or green. Each occupies one of 16 tubes of plastic that stretch across the rotunda like see-through hammocks.
This implicitly kinetic combination of painting and sculpture looks brand new. But it was actually conceived in 1956, when its creator, the Gutai artist Sadamasa Motonaga (1922-2011), strung it between trees for an outdoor exhibition in Ashiya, near Osaka, Japan.
“Gutai: Splendid Playground” is the first large, in-depth exhibition devoted to Gutai and the first to thoroughly cover its panoply of mediums. It displays 100 works of painting, sculpture, drawing, installation art, film and performance, supplemented by photomurals and printed matter, all brilliantly interwoven.
Their convergence at the Guggenheim reflects the scholarship of Ming Tiampo, an art historian who teaches at Carleton University in Ottawa, and has been realized in collaboration with Alexandra Munroe, the Guggenheim’s senior curator of Asian art. Accompanied by a terrific catalog, their effort should permanently dislodge any notion of postwar modernism as a strictly Western phenomenon.
The works in this show are — like Motonaga’s colored water — generally relaxed and even fun-loving. The idea of art as an occasion for liberating, medium-mixing, often participatory play was a serious component of Gutai thought, especially during its first decade. Formed in 1954, the Gutai Art Association stressed the importance of uninhibited individual actions, the thwarting of expectations and even silliness as ways to counter the passivity and conformity that enabled the country’s militarist government to become so disastrously powerful in the previous decades, invading China and then charging into World War II.
In its own way, Gutai wanted to help rebuild democracy by both demonstrating and encouraging symbolic acts of independence. Its members used their feet, robots and fire to make paintings, continually pushing the medium’s boundaries. Other works called on viewers to act.” –ROBERTA SMITH, New York Times
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