History of Gutai

Early Period: 1954–1957

The Gutai Art Association was formed in 1954 in Ashiya, a small city lying about 20 km west of Osaka. Led by Yoshihara Jiro, the Association released the first issue of its bulletin Gutai in January 1955, and in October of the same year organized the First Gutai Art Exhibition, in Tokyo. Yoshihara then published the “Gutai Art Manifesto” in the December issue of Geijutsu Shincho magazine in 1956.

“Do what no one has done before.” Yoshihara’s words inspired early members of the Association such as Uemae Chiyu, Shimamoto Shozo, Masanobu Masatoshi, Yamazaki Tsuruko, Yoshida Toshio, Ukita Yozo, Kanayama Akira, Shiraga Kazuo, Shiraga Fujiko, Sumi Yasuo, Tanaka Atsuko, Murakami Saburo, Motonaga Sadamasa, and Tsubouchi Teruyuki to create an incredibly diverse body of work including dynamically abstract paintings, thickly impasted or with splattered paint, and strongly physical performances using the whole body in direct engagement with materials. Their passion to explore new forms of expression brought them to outdoor and theatrical settings. In global terms, these artists were at the leading edge of avant-garde art.

From its beginning, the Gutai Art Association put a particular effort into publication. The Gutai bulletin was distributed worldwide to publicize Gutai’s activities, and reached artists such as Jackson Pollock, a leading American painter in the Abstract Expressionist movement.

Gutai, no. 1 (1955)

Gutai, no. 1 (1955)

Invitation card for the 1st Gutai Art Exhibition (1955)

Invitation card for the 1st Gutai Art Exhibition (1955)

Invitation card for the 1st Gutai Art Exhibition (1955)

Invitation card for the 1st Gutai Art Exhibition (1955)

1954
Around August
Gutai Art Association (Gutai) formed.
1955
January
Gutai 1, the first issue of Gutai journal published. (Continued until 14th issue in 1965.)
July – August
Gutai art exhibited at Experimental Outdoor Exhibition of Modern Art to Challenge the Mid-summer Burning Sun at Ashiya Park.
October
1st Gutai Art Exhibition held at Ohara Kaikan in Tokyo.
1956
April
American Life magazine photographs Gutai artists, including One Day Only Outdoor Art Exhibition held at the mouth of the Mukogawa River in Amagasaki.
July – August
Outdoor Gutai Art Exhibition held at Ashiya Park.
October
2nd Gutai Art Exhibition held at Ohara Kaikan in Tokyo.
December
Yoshihara Jiro publishes “Gutai Art Manifesto” in December issue of Geijutsu Shincho.
1957
April
3rd Gutai Art Exhibition held at Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art.
May
Gutai Art Using the Stage held at Sankei Hall in Osaka (and also at Sankei Hall in Tokyo in July).
October
4th Gutai Art Exhibition held at Ohara Kaikan in Tokyo.

Middle Period: 1957–1965

Michel Tapié was an influential French art critic and active promoter of abstract painting that was gestural and strong in material presence, which he termed informel (unformed). Tapié visited Osaka to investigate Gutai during his trip to Japan in 1957. Appreciating the innovation that he found, he introduced Gutai to the world alongside Art Informel works through exhibitions he organized: International Contemporary Art Exhibition and the International Art of a New Era: Informel and Gutai. Tapié’s acclaim opened doors for Gutai outside Japan, and the first of many exhibitions in the West was realized in New York in 1958. Under Tapié’s influence, Gutai’s focus on works experimenting with new materials and on performance work gave way to paintings and other two-dimensional works that were more tractable for international exhibitions, and also more marketable.

Yoshihara converted some old storehouses he owned in Nakanoshima to open a new exhibition space for Gutai in 1962, calling it the Gutai Pinacotheca. In addition to providing space for group and solo exhibitions by Gutai artists, it functioned as a new base for Gutai activities and became a venue for exhibitions to introduce work by avant-garde artists from around the world.

In the first half of the 1960s, new-generation artists such as Mukai Shuji, Maekawa Tsuyoshi, Nasaka Yuko, and Matsutani Takesada joined the Gutai group. Their styles, significantly different from those of earlier members, injected fresh energy into the group.

1957
September
Michel Tapié visits Osaka and forms close ties with Gutai.
October
Contemporary World Art, an international exhibition of Art Informel works organized by Tapié, held at the Bridgestone Museum of Art in Tokyo, displaying works by Yoshihara and others. (Gutai also holds same show at Daimaru Department Store in Osaka in December.)
Pamphlet of the exhibition, International Art of a New Era: Informel and Gutai (1958)

Pamphlet of the exhibition, International Art of a New Era: Informel and Gutai (1958)

1958
April
2nd Gutai Art Using the Stage, held at Asahi Kaikan in Osaka
April
International Art of a New Era: Informel and Gutai, held jointly by Tapié and Yoshihara, opens at the Takashimaya Namba Department Store in Osaka. (Travels to Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Tokyo, and Kyoto.)
April
2nd Gutai Small Works Exhibition held at Ohara Kaikan Hall in Tokyo. (Later designated as the 5th Gutai Art Exhibition.)
September – October
Gutai Group exhibition (later known as the 6th Gutai Art Exhibition) held at Martha Jackson Gallery in New York. (Later, travels throughout U.S.)
1959
February
BBC television crew films Gutai artists at work.
June
7th Gutai Art Exhibition held at Galleria Arti Figurative in Turin, Italy.
August
8th Gutai Art Exhibition held at Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art. (Also held at Ohara Kaikan in Tokyo in September.)
Italian art magazine “Notizie” featuring Gutai (April 1959)

Italian art magazine “Notizie” featuring Gutai (April 1959)

1960
April
The International Sky Festival, an international Art Informel exhibition displaying works using advertising balloons, held on rooftop of the Takashimaya Namba Department Store in Osaka. 9th Gutai Art Exhibition held at the same time on third floor of same store.
Gutai, no.11 featuring International Sky Festival (1960)

Gutai, no.11 featuring International Sky Festival (1960)

1961
April
10th Gutai Art Exhibition held at the Takashimaya Namba Department Store in Osaka. (Also held at Takashimaya Nihombashi Department Store in Tokyo in May.)
1962
April
11th Gutai Art Exhibition held at the Takashimaya Namba Department Store in Osaka.
September
Gutai Pinacotheca opened in Nakanoshima, Osaka (after an opening party in August).
November
Gutai and Morita Modern Dance Company hold Don’t Worry, the Moon Won’t Fall Down! at Sankei Hall in Osaka.
Brochure of the Gutai Pinacotheca (1962)

Brochure of the Gutai Pinacotheca (1962)

Michel Tapié’s dedication to the inauguration of the Gutai Pinacotheca, displayed at the entrance (1962)

Michel Tapié’s dedication to the inauguration of the Gutai Pinacotheca, displayed at the entrance (1962)

1963
January
12th Gutai Art Exhibition held at Takashimaya Nihombashi Department Store in Tokyo.
April
13th Gutai Art Exhibition held at the Takashimaya Namba Department Store in Osaka.
1964
March
14th Gutai Art Exhibition held at the Takashimaya Namba Department Store in Osaka.

Late Period: 1965–1972

Imai Norio, Takasaki Motonao, Horio Sadaharu, Matsuda Yutaka, and other artists working at the forefront of contemporary art joined the Gutai group on the occasion of the 15th Gutai Art Exhibition in 1965. New artistic styles included geometrical abstract paintings and the use of industrial materials, including even motors. Meanwhile, the early members began to change their styles. For instance, group leader Jiro Yoshihara began producing his trademark circle paintings.

Activities of the Gutai group in this period reflect the atmosphere of Japan’s high economic growth period. When EXPO ‘70 was held in Osaka in 1970, the whole Gutai group worked to contribute to the exposition. The year 1970 also saw the closure of Gutai Pinacotheca due to the construction of a new expressway ramp. Its successor, the Gutai Mini Pinacotheca opened the following year, 1971.

The Gutai Art Association was disbanded shortly after the sudden death of its leader, Yoshihara Jiro, on February 10, 1972. With its vigorous and innovative activities based in the Kansai region, Gutai had been a leading player in the art world.

Pamphlet of the exhibition in Paris, Groupe Gutai (1965-66)

Pamphlet of the exhibition in Paris, Groupe Gutai (1965–66)

1965
July
15th Gutai Art Exhibition held at Gutai Pinacotheca.
October
16th Gutai Art Exhibition held at Keio Department Store in Shinjuku, Tokyo.
October
Gutai 14, the fourteenth and final issue of Gutai journal published.
November – following January
Gutai Group exhibition Groupe Gutai held at Galerie Stadler in Paris. Later travels to Cologne, Germany and Loenersloot, the Netherlands.
1966
June
Gutai Pinacotheca introduced, with all members exhibiting, at Lausanne international art dealers’ exhibition, 2ème Salon international des galeries pilotes, at Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne, Switzerland.
September
17th Gutai Art Exhibition held at Takashimaya Department Store in Yokohama. (Also held at Gutai Pinacotheca in October.)
1967
May
Gutai Art Association awarded Kobe Shimbun Peace Prize (culture prize).
June
Gutai New Works Exhibition held at Gutai Pinacotheca. (Later designated as the 18th Gutai Art Exhibition.)
June
Works exhibited at Gutai Group exhibition, Gutai (aka Gutai's Austrian Exhibition), at Galerie Heide Hildebrand in Klagenfurt, Austria.
October
19th Gutai Art Exhibition held at Tokyo Central Museum. (Also held at Gutai Pinacotheca in November.)
1968
July
20th Gutai Art Exhibition held at Gutai Pinacotheca.
November
21st Gutai Art Exhibition held at Gutai Pinacotheca.
1970
March – September
Gutai artists participate in Expo ’70 in Osaka, Japan, exhibiting at Expo art exhibitions, including Gutai Group exhibition held in Midori Pavilion entrance hall, and holding Gutai Art Festival at Festival Plaza (from August 31 to September 2).
April
Gutai Pinacotheca closes.
(from left) Announcement of the closing of the Gutai Pinacotheca | Invitation card for the Jiro Yoshihara Exhibition| Invitation card for the Last Exhibition at the Gutai Pinacotheca (1970)

(from left) Announcement of the closing of the Gutai Pinacotheca | Invitation card for the Jiro Yoshihara Exhibition | Invitation card for the Last Exhibition at the Gutai Pinacotheca (1970)

1971
October
Gutai Mini Pinacotheca opens in Nakanoshima, Osaka.
1972
February 10
Yoshihara Jiro dies.
March 31
Gutai Art Association disbands.
April
Gutai Mini Pinacotheca closes.
(from left) Announcement of the Gutai’s dissolution | Invitation card for the exhibition, Gutai ‘55-72 (1972)

(from left) Announcement of the Gutai’s dissolution | Invitation card for the exhibition, Gutai ‘55–72 (1972)

Reference:
Shoichi Hirai. What’s Gutai?. Tokyo: Bijutsu Shuppan-sha, 2004.
Gutai: The Spirit of an Era (exhibition catalog). Tokyo: The National Art Center, Tokyo, 2012.
Ming Tiampo and Alexandra Munroe. Gutai: Splendid Playground (exhibition catalog). New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2013.

Gutai Pinacotheca
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