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チェックと日本の現代美術界についての感想

Gutai in New York

2009年11月13日


“NEW YORK! Just like I pitchered it... Skyscrapers and everythin’!”*... Let’s be honest, though: New Jersey ‘aint much like that, and you’d be forgiven for checking you haven’t taken a wrong turn into the projects when you step off the PATH train into the battered downtown of Jersey City, that lies across the water in the grim and polluted industrial flank of the New York urban sprawl. A few miles further south, New Jersey City University is an old gothic looking looking college in a quiet, more residential part of the town, with well dressed lawns and well dressed security men. It’s a hard edged urban public institution catering to a wide range of less advantaged students in the state.

I’m here to visit the first half of New York’s (and New Jersey’s) current showing of works from the Gutai Association, that underline the historical links and flows between the classic Osaka based group and the New York art world in the 1950s and 60s. I meet up with Midori Yoshimoto, gallery director at the college and she talks me through the works in the small but elegant Lemmerman Gallery that include a range of the Gutai group (including Tsuruko Yamazaki, Toshio Nasaka, and Sadamasa Motonaga), some works by American artists linked to them, and enthusiastic correspondence and memorabilia sent between the two countries. The show, "Under Each Other’s Spell", was put together by Ming Taimpo of Carleton University, who is soon to publish a book on Gutai with Chicago University Press, and was also shown at the Krasner-Pollack House and Study Center, East Hampton, New York. Yoshimoto herself is the noted author of Into Performance, a book that documents the lives and works of several of the most well known Japanese contemporary women artists in New York, including Yayoi Kusama and Yoko Ono.



Later that afternoon, back in the big city, I catch a drink in the West Village with Reiko Tomii, one of the longstanding key players in the NYC Japanese art scene. She played a crucial translator/contributor roles in Alexandra Monroe’s Scream Again the Sky, Yoko Ono’s Yes retrospective, and Murakami’s Little Boy, and co-curated a show recently (with Eric Shiner) called Making a Home, about Japanese expat artists who live and work in New York. She starts out by talking me through her argument in a column for the current edition of Art Asia Pacific, in which she laments the still low level of international awareness about Gutai, which should be by now old and rather obvious Japanese contemporary classics. It’s about time that Western audiences got beyond the “Wow! What’s this!” reaction when they see Gutai for the first time, she says. It may be ok to react to landmark historically established art like that if you are a twenty year old student, but if a serious critic saw a Pollock and expressed that kind of same naïve wonderment, they would immediately be drummed out of a job. She is tired of having to “introduce” Gutai to people. There has been no accumulation of knowledge and criticism of this famous group, despite its periodical fashionability, and that is highly problematic.



Things have not advanced so much, then, since the first showing in New York in 1958 of works by Gutai’s most well known name, Kazuo Shiraga, which was panned for being a derivative version of Pollack’s action paintings. Six decades of Shiraga’s works can currently be seen at the McCaffrey Fine Art Gallery in the Upper East Side, along with an elegant catalogue authored by Tomii. Of course, she says, the silent paintings on the wall are but a “tainted” version of the original action/performance, but Western art museums and buyers had to collect (and talk about) something. Tomii also criticises Daniel Birnbaum’s presentation of Gutai at the recent Venice Biennale (which I wrote about in my blog on 09/10/31), which she says was a static and problematic recreation of a recreation, at two removes from the original, and disconnected from the intense performance and location based point of the original works.

My favourite part of both shows in fact were the old videos that they were showing, which document early performances, at a park in Ashiya near Kobe, and on stage in Osaka, and trace the trajectory of these works through to their starkly ambitious show at the Osaka Art Expo in 1971. In its time, Osaka must have looked just like the kind of thing put on at the Beijing Olympics last year, and it is particularly striking how, for example, two staged works by Atsuko Tanaka – the layered undressing of models, and the idea of light dresses – have resurfaced recently in the staged fine art versions of contemporary fashion by Viktor and Rolf and Hussein Chalayan, who are among the hippest and hottest names in fine art/fashion these days. One feels a similar prescience in Shiraga shooting paint arrows into a screen on stage, or Saburo Murakami punching holes of light and darkness through a paper screen. Actually, “Wow!” is what I thought...

I wonder if there isn’t a pragmatic alternative to Tomii’s frustration, which might at least hope that the amazed first encounter with Gutai, however late it happens, will lead to further discoveries and new appreciation of overlooked Japanese contemporary art from past decades. These are small showings that will not draw huge numbers of visitors, but Tomii has also ensured a visible institutional focus for the events by organising a talk show/discussion on November 18th at the Guggenheim with curator Monroe, Tiampo, the artist Paul Jenkins and art historian Judith Roedenbeck. It has a nice title: ‘Gutai: A “Concrete” Discussion of Transnationalism'.

It was a packed few days in the city. I also met with Miwako Tezuka at the Asia Society, who is organising a major retrospective of Yoshitomo Nara in New York next Autumn, and with Sarah Suzuki, who is part of a major book project on post-war Japanese art at MoMA. One can only admire how tirelessly all these curators and writers are working to re-establish the significance of post-war Japanese art in the face of the usual blank indifference of western art history.

* Livin’ For the City, Stevie Wonder

Links and images to the two shows and info on the symposium:

http://www.njcu.edu/dept/art/galleries/default.asp

http://www.mccaffreyfineart.com/current.html

http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/calendar-and-events

ADRIAN FAVELL
http://www.adrianfavell.com

みんなからのコメント

Thank you so much, Adrian!

Yes, 「Gutai」provokes deep thought with viewers time investment and represents one of the milestones in Asian art, therefore should be evaluated highly around the world.
Serious art lovers know 「Gutai」 quite well.
Appreciating the integrity and compassionate efforts by all the curators and art professionals you are rightly naming.
感謝しています。
My works sometimes let Gutai marks being left in a sublime way, too. ;-))



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Mario A / 亜 真里男
2009/11/13 13:15

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