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Philippe Vergne discusses Kazuo Shiraga’s Untitled (1959)

Philippe Vergne, September 1999
When Kazuo Shiraga started to work post-war, too in the 1950s, with the Gutai Group in Japan, in the same way then, the Viennese artists from the Aktionist Movement were considered as one of the first modern movements in Vienna, we can think that Gutai could be considered as the first modern movement in the history of twentieth century art in Japan. It was a group of people in the same way they were willing to challenge painting through action. As you can see in this painting by Kazuo Shiraga, it's something which is related to action. The painting is a trace, is a record, of something which was done live. In the same way that Otto Muehl is no more about representation, it's about a dynamic movement, just to inform you about the way the painting was made, Shiraga was painting with his feet, which can seem funny but it was a statement to show how the painting could ...testify of something which was linked to the body of the artist, which is important in this painting, in this movement in that we are dealing with a group of artists who are offering from a total other part of the world something which was challenging a modern model. It's important for us also to have this painting in the institution, because it's not Pollock but it's something which is challenging Pollock, which is offering an option to Pollock. It's linked to performing art among all the activities that the Gutai Group was doing: performing art, theater, music. People like composer Takehisa Kosugi ... all these people were working together. When we know the history of the Walker with performing art ... we know, for example, that Kosugi is now the official composer for Merce Cunningham. You have an history which is coming together through these different names. I think it's also an important piece for the Walker because the Walker will do, in a few months, a Gutai retrospective and, also, because if we start to look at Gutai, you cannot take away what was the historical situation, what was also literature in Japan, and I think when you look at this kind of painting you cannot not think about someone like Mishima. And when you look at Muehl, for me, it's the same thing, you can think about the same political protest.
Copyright 1999 Walker Art Center