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The Gutai Group

Kiyoji Otsuji
Murakami Saburo, Passing Through, 2nd Gutai Art exhibition, 1956,printed 2012
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
20.7 x 31.5 cm (8.1 x 12.4 in.)
Tate, London

The Gutai Group was a post-World War II Japanese artist collective founded in 1954 near Osaka. The name "Gutai" translates literally as "concrete," signifying the artists' mission to explore beyond the abstract painting of the day. The group sought to create novel experiences that blurred the boundaries between art and life by employing a wide range of media, from clay and Elmer's glue to plastic tubing and sound art.

Prominent members of the Gutai Group included Kazuo Shiraga, Atsuko Tanaka, and Saburo Murakami. Shiraga's calligraphic paintings channeled the gestural abstraction of artists such as Jackson Pollock and Art Informel. Tanaka experimented with electric lights and wires to create immersive installations, while Murakami created performance art pieces that involved breaking through paper screens. The group actively promoted themselves overseas, distributing mail art and publishing a widely read journal. In a society just coming out from under the totalitarianism of World War II, Gutai's call for enthusiasm, playfulness, and new artistic frontiers was a major stimulus.

Kiyoji Otsuji documents Shōzō Shimamoto throwing glass bottles of colorfulpigments against a stone at the center of a canvas,2nd Gutai Exhibition, Tokyo, 1956
© Seiko Otsuji / Courtesy of Musashino Art University Museum & Library,Tokyo Publishing House
From the portfolio Kiyoji Otsuji GUTAI PHOTOGRAPH 1956-57

The Gutai Group's emphasis on performance and materiality has often been seen as a precursor to Arte Povera and performance art of the 1960s. The group was one of the first to explore the relationship between the artist and the audience in a performative setting, creating works that were meant to engage viewers in active participation. The group's innovative approach to art-making was groundbreaking and has had a lasting impact on the contemporary art world. Despite dissolving in the early 1970s, their legacy continues to inspire artists around the world and has been instrumental in the discovery of new art forms and techniques.

Related categories

Performance

Daily Life Experience

Japanese Art

Abstraction

Asian Art

20th Century Art

View/Viewed

Materiality/Immateriality

Participatory Art

Art of the 1960s

Art after World War II

Post-War Japanese Art

Blurring Genre Boundaries

What Does Art Do