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Image
Courtesy Walker Art Center
Rights
Copyright retained by the artist

Copyright

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Title
Untitled
Artist
Kazuo Shiraga
Date
1959
Dimensions
unframed 70.875 × 110 inches
Materials
oil on canvas
Location
Not on view

Object Details

Type
Paintings (Paintings)
Accession Number
1998.109
Style
Abstract
Inscriptions
in black paint on front BL in “ ” (signature in Japanese) “1959.3”; N.A.
Physical Description
A painting in which the artist used his feet to spread very thick red, brown, and black paint on the canvas
Printer
N.A.
Credit Line
T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 1998

object label Kazuo Shiraga, Untitled (1959) Walker Art Center, 1999

With this recently acquired painting, the Walker adds to its collection a work representative of an important avant-garde art movement that is not very well known in the United States: the Gutai Art Association. Gutai, which means “embodiment,” has similarities to the Action Painting of New York in the 1950s, but is uniquely influenced by its own time and place–postwar Japan.

Established in the summer of 1954, the group formed around artist Jiro Yoshihara in Osaka and sought to create a new art “never known until now.” Coming out of Japan’s surrender in World War II, Gutai artists desired an art free of social criticism or political implication. Their first exhibition was in 1955 and featured a performance wherein Shiraga dove into a pile of mud and wrestled, kicked, and thrashed the clay mound to create an artwork sculpted by physical action.

Unlike Allan Kaprow’s Happenings in Europe and America–which weren’t to emerge for another two years–Gutai artists intended their performances to result in the creation of sculptures and more prominently, paintings. Shozo Shimamoto threw bottles of paint onto paper spread on the floor. Saburo Murakami thrust his body through packing paper stretched over frames, and painted by throwing paint-covered balls at the canvas. In this untitled painting, Shiraga used his bare feet to apply the paint onto a piece of canvas on the floor. Grasping a hanging rope, he dipped and swung himself through the thick, wet oil paint. The finished painting depicts his random spins, swirls, and slips.

Label text for Kazuo Shiraga, Untitled (1959), from the exhibition Art in Our Time: 1950 to the Present, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, September 5, 1999 to September 2, 2001.

Copyright 1999 Walker Art Center

curriculum resource Kazuo Shiraga, Untitled (1959) Walker Art Center, 2002

Kazuo Shiraga is a member of the avant-garde movement in Japan known as the Gutai Art Association. Established in the summer of 1954, the group sought to create a new art “never known until now.” Gutai, which means “embodiment,” has similarities to the Action Painting of New York in the 1950s, but is uniquely influenced by its own time and place–postwar Japan. Coming out of that country’s surrender in World War II, Gutai practitioners desired an art free of social criticism or political implication. Their artistic process combined action and performance with painting. Unlike Happenings in Europe and America, Gutai events were meant to result in the creation of sculptures and paintings.

During the first Gutai exhibition in 1955, Shiraga dove into a pile of mud and wrestled, kicked, and thrashed the clay mound to create an artwork sculpted by physical action. In this painting, Shiraga used his body as a tool–this time a large paint brush. Swinging from a hanging rope, he used his bare feet to apply paint onto a canvas on the floor. The finished work depicts his random spins, swirls, and slips.

Text for Kazuo Shiraga, Untitled (1959), from the curriculum guide So, Why Is This Art?, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 2002.

Copyright 2002 Walker Art Center

curatorial commentary Philippe Vergne discusses Kazuo Shiraga’s Untitled (1959) Philippe Vergne, September 1999

When Kazuo Shiraga started to work post-war, too in the 1950s, with the Gutai Group in Japan, in the same way then, the Viennese artists from the Aktionist Movement were considered as one of the first modern movements in Vienna, we can think that Gutai could be considered as the first modern movement in the history of twentieth century art in Japan. It was a group of people in the same way they were willing to challenge painting through action. As you can see in this painting by Kazuo Shiraga, it’s something which is related to action. The painting is a trace, is a record, of something which was done live. In the same way that Otto Muehl is no more about representation, it’s about a dynamic movement, just to inform you about the way the painting was made, Shiraga was painting with his feet, which can seem funny but it was a statement to show how the painting could …testify of something which was linked to the body of the artist, which is important in this painting, in this movement in that we are dealing with a group of artists who are offering from a total other part of the world something which was challenging a modern model. It’s important for us also to have this painting in the institution, because it’s not Pollock but it’s something which is challenging Pollock, which is offering an option to Pollock. It’s linked to performing art among all the activities that the Gutai Group was doing: performing art, theater, music. People like composer Takehisa Kosugi … all these people were working together. When we know the history of the Walker with performing art … we know, for example, that Kosugi is now the official composer for Merce Cunningham. You have an history which is coming together through these different names. I think it’s also an important piece for the Walker because the Walker will do, in a few months, a Gutai retrospective and, also, because if we start to look at Gutai, you cannot take away what was the historical situation, what was also literature in Japan, and I think when you look at this kind of painting you cannot not think about someone like Mishima. And when you look at Muehl, for me, it’s the same thing, you can think about the same political protest.

Philippe Vergne, Curator of Visual Arts, Walker Art Center, commenting on Kazuo Shiraga’s Untitled (1959), during the exhibition Art in Our Time: 1950 to the Present, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, September 1999.

Copyright 1999 Walker Art Center