Atsuko Tanaka
The Art of Connecting

7 October 2011

25 December 2011

This exhibition is the fruit of several years of joint curatorship and enthusiasm on behalf of Espai d'art contemporani de Castelló, Ikon Gallery from Birmingham, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo and the Japan Foundation. The most exhaustive survey to date of Atsuko Tanaka’s work strikes a balance of all aspects of her practice, spanning from her early gestural work, including documentation of Gutai performances from the 1950s, to paintings made shortly before her death in 2005, bringing together a total of almost one hundred works from twenty-five collections worldwide.

More specifically, for Espai d’art contemporani de Castelló this show is an exercise in recovering the memory of one of the most outstanding Asian artists of the 1950s and 60s, both for her contributions to the analysis of painting as medium, as well as for breaking boundaries and for her engagement with other media and, in short, for the importance and influence of her work on her contemporary artists and on later generations.

Atsuko Tanaka is one of the best known artists from the Japanese vanguard, and a member of the Gutai movement between 1955 and 1965. Gutai was founded in 1954 in the city of Ashiya, located between Osaka and Kobe in the region of Kansai (Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe), by the artist Jiro Yoshihara, an abstract painter already well-known prior to the war who was a staunch defender of gestural painting. Besides Yoshihara, its main members were Sadamasa Motonaga, Shozo Shimamoto, Saburo Murakami, Katsuo Shiraga, Seichi Sato, Akira Kanayama and Atsuko Tanaka.

Together with Akira Kanayama, Tanaka was unquestionably one of the most pioneering Gutai artists. Her previous period with the Zero Group —alongside Akira Kanayama, Kazuo Shiraga and Saburo Murakami— gave her an extra dimension with a more radical drive than envisaged by the founder Jiro Yoshihara, author of the Gutai Manifesto published in 1956 in the Japanese art magazine Geitjusu-Shincho.

The Gutai artists were conversant with what was happening in the arts in Europe and in the USA. Likewise, the actions of its members found currency worldwide and helped to diffuse their work, publicising the movement among western critics and artists, an example of which can be found in the newsletter they published on a regular basis.

The Gutai group came about in the wake of the harrowing experience following the end of the Second World War, rejecting capitalist consumerism and conceiving ironic actions with an underlying sense of tension and latent aggressiveness (breaking objects, smoke actions).

The performance-based works of the Gutai group, in which Tanaka participated actively, expanded the limits of art informel and action painting to the point of transforming them into ritual acts of agitation.