Atsuko Tanaka

Atsuko Tanaka was born in Osaka, Japan (1932-2005). In 1950, she enrolled at the Art Institute of Osaka Municipal Museum of Art. The following year, she entered the Department of Western Painting at the Kyoto Municipal College of Art (now Kyoto City University Arts). Tanaka was part of the first Gutai generation along with Jiro Yoshihara, Shozo Shimamoto, Kazuo Shiraga and so forth until 1965.

Tanaka gained worldwide recognition with her ability to fuse a postwar sensibility with a rejuvenating contemporary empowerment, distinguishing herself from her Gutai peers. Her abstract yet eclectic œuvres are often underscored by a challenged notion of how art should “perform”. Her iconic Electric Dress, which she made for a performance in 1956, captured the ethos of the postwar popular culture, which is represented by the excessive use of the neon-illuminated advertisements. The electric dress synthesizes a traditional Japanese kimono with modern industrial technology serving to reevaluate the Japanese position in the postwar era.

The technical nature of Electric Dress has catalyzed a new degree of freedom in Tanaka’s lyrical abstract artworks, which allowed her to adopt multi-coloured circles and complex scribbled lines as the primary motifs in her seemingly improvised gestural paintings from the 1960s onwards. The entanglements of the scribbled lines and circles suggest the bridging between nervous system and electrical circuits that form the human body and define our modern society respectively. Initially, these paintings were limited to black and red, however, it has been extended to incorporate blue, green and yellow. As Tanaka gradually became more comfortable with her distinctive voice and vocabulary, her series of radical gestural paintings become more unified and congruent overtime by her consistent experimentalist vision.

As Tanaka’s fame rose to prominence, she received the Mayor’s Award for Excellence at the Sixth Contemporary Art Exhibition of Japan in 1964 as well as the Mayor’s Award at the Thirteenth Ashiya City Exhibition in 1960.

Tanaka’s solo exhibitions: Atsuko Tanaka: Paintings and Drawings, 1980-2002, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, USA (2004); Electrifying Art, Grey Art Gallery, New York, USA (2004); The Art of Connecting, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, United Kingdom; Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan (2011-2012); Atsuko Tanaka Collection Exhibition, Tezukayama Gallery, Osaka, Japan (2015). Tanaka’s group exhibitions: Gutai Retrospective, Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art, Kobe, Japan (2005); Atsuko and Akira Kanayama, Paul Cooper Gallery, New York, USA (2008); Explosion! Painting as Action, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden (2012); Gutai: The Spirit of an Era, The National Art Center, Tokyo, Japan (2012); Gutai: Splending Playground, Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA (2013).