ARTICLE JOHN GANZ
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY HAUSER & WIRTH
Over the past few years the art world has turned its focus to movements at the margins of modernism. In particular the work of the Gutai group--founded in Japan during the 50s--has been featured in a series of shows. Most recently there was Hauser and Wirth’s A Visual Essay on The Gutai Group and the renewed interest will culminate in a major retrospective at the Guggenheim in February.
The attention is well-deserved. And not only as art historical curiosity, though it must be noted that Gutai influenced and foreshadow movements such as Fluxus, minimalism, installation art and conceptual art. The Gutai manifesto dictated that the group not try to emulate artists and artistic movements of the past. In an era dominated by reference and reappropriation, the work looks both fresh and unaffected.
Spanning three decades, Hauser and Wirth’s Visual Essay showed twelve different artists’ experimentations in abstraction, using methods ranging from the violently gestural to the geometric and constructed. Each artist’s contribution was markedly different from the others, and also markedly different from the reigning New York school painters of the same era. Particularly noteworthy in the show was the work of avant-garde pioneer Atsuko Tanaka (her offbeat visual language appears at once childlike and logical), the group founder Jiro Yoshihara’s stark Zen-circles, and Sadamaro Motonaga’s eccentric use of gesture.