(1955-1972) Gutai

Jiro Yoshihara, Akira Kanayama, Chiyu Uemae, Saburo Murakami, Kazuo Shiraga, Shozo Shimamoto, Atsuko Tanaka, Sadamasa Motonaga, Yutaka Matsuda, Yuko Nasaka, Minoru Yoshida, Minoru Onoda, Hirosi Nagare, Yasuo Sumi.

Shozo Shimamoto and Jiro Yoshihara founded Gutai together in 1954, and it was Shimamoto who suggested the name Gutai. The kanji used to write 'gu' meaning tool, measures, or a way of doing something, while 'tai' means body. Yoshihara considers it to mean "embodiment" and "concreteness." The group was officially known as Gutai Bijutsu Kyokai (Art Association of Gutai).

In their early public exhibitions in 1955 and 1956 Gutai artists created a series of striking works anticipating later happenings and performance and conceptual art. Shiraga’s Challenge to the Mud 1955, in which the artist rolled half naked in a pile of mud, remains the most celebrated event associated with the group. Also in 1955 Murakami created his reportedly stunning performance Laceration of Paper, in which he ran through a paper screen. At the second Gutai show in 1956, Shiraga used his feet to paint a large canvas sprawled across the floor. From about 1950 Shimamoto had been making paintings from layers of newspaper pasted together, painted and then pierced with holes, anticipating the pierced work of Lucio Fontana. In 1954 Murakami had made a series of paintings by throwing a ball soaked in ink at paper. In 1956 Shimamoto went on to make works called Throws of Colour by smashing glass jars filled with pigment onto canvases laid out on the floor. n the early 1950s, works by Yoshihara were featured in the opening shows of Nihon Kokusai Bijutsu-ten (International Art Exhibition Japan) and Gendai Nihon Bijutsu-ten (Contemporary Art Exhibition of Japan) during the resurgence of contemporary art in Japan. In "Osaka 1951", Yoshihara and others established the Gendai Bijutsu Kondan Kai (Contemporary Art Discussion Group), known as "Genbi". This group served as a workshop and forum for creating new art forms merging Eastern and Western culture as well as the modern and traditional. The main focus of Yoshihara was gaining recognition in the art world through Japanese tradition and in 1952 Yoshihara participated for example to the Salon de Mai in Paris and again in 1958 after the visit of Georges Mathieu to Japan in 1957 and the discovery of the movement by the art critic Michel Tapié. The Gutai group developed a new perspective on individuality and community, which were ideas pertinent to the post-war atmosphere. The group developed a "collective spirit of individuality". by emphasizing the importance of the individual in a group context. To the Gutai group, community was essential in fostering the creativity of the individual. In terms of the post-war atmosphere, it was common in Japan to believe that community was to blame for enabling such war aggression to happen and therefore it needed to be abolished. This is what inspired Yoshihara to rethink community. The group took on a horizontal system of community as opposed to a hierarchical one. Gutai believed that community was essential to the development of the individual. Gutai viewed individualism as challenging oneself against external forces, such as the psychological forces of fascism, in which the individual becomes a means of asserting freedom. Asserting freedom is how one can prevent totalitarianism from returning. These views were written in articles and shared in the Gutai bulletin. Artistically speaking, the Gutai group maintained their collective identity by having group exhibitions and group journals. The importance of the individual comes into play in the diversity of the artists themselves. The styles and approaches greatly varied within the group. They also had many existential reflections like Jean Fautrier and Jackson Pollock. Their principles of emancipation were from the rapid dehumanizing industrial growth that was happening in Japan. Their concerns were close to that of Allan Kaprow, the Situationist International, the Dutch group Nul, and the Brazilian Neo-concretists. The group worked together for 18 years and dissolved after the sudden death of Yoshihara in March 1972.