Genpei Akasegawa (1937-2014)

The artist and writer Genpei Akasegawa has died Oct 26 at the age of 77 after a series of health issues – beginning with stomach cancer, discovered in 2011 – it has been reported.

Born in March 1937 in Yokohama, Akasegawa was a central figure in the 1960s avant-garde in Tokyo. Along with Jiro Takamatsu and Natsuyuki Nakanishi, he founded the group Hi-Red Center, staging provocative events and happenings around Tokyo at sites ranging from the Imperial Hotel to the streets of Ginza and the experimental Naiqua Gallery. He also gained notoriety through the One-Thousand-Yen Note Trial that embroiled him throughout the latter half of the 1960s. For a solo exhibition at Shinjuku Dai-ichi Gallery in early 1963, Akasegawa had created an exhibition announcement printed on one side with the likeness of a 1000-yen note, and on the opposite side with exhibition information. Having sent these announcements through the postal system in cash envelopes, Akasegawa was subsequently charged with counterfeiting, and prosecuted in court. The trial, which played out across several appeals, involved presentations of art in court and debates about the meaning of anti-art. Legal deliberations concluded in 1970 when the Supreme Court upheld an earlier guilty verdict.

Undeterred, Akasegawa remained active throughout this difficult period. In July 1970, he debuted his own manga, Sakura Gahou – published as an insert in the popular Asahi Journal magazine – satirizing the political contradictions of contemporary Japanese society. Entering the 1980s Akasegawa earned recognition as a writer under the pen-name Katsuhiko Otsuji, winning the prestigious Akutagawa Prize in 1981 for his short story “Chichi ga kieta” (Father is Gone), and also chalking up a bestseller in 1998’s Roujinryoku (Senior Power). His reflections on the 1960s avant-garde and his activities with Hi-Red Center were collected in the book Tokyo mikisaa keikaku (Tokyo Mixer Plan), first printed by Parco in 1984 and reissued by Chikuma Shobo in 1994.

Akasegawa’s death comes on the heels of a major survey of Hi-Red Center that originated at the Nagoya City Art Museum in late 2013 and toured in early 2014 to the Shoto Museum of Art in Tokyo, “Hi-Red Center: The Documents of ‘Direct Action.'” A retrospective of the career of Akasegawa himself, “‘The Principles of Art’ by Genpei Akasegawa: From the 1960s to the Present” (JP only), opens Oct 28 at the Chiba City Museum of Art.

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