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The Market Auction, Inc., Tokyo, June 14, 2008, lot 21
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, 2nd International Art Exhibition, 1953
Takeo Yamaguchi, The Works of Takeo Yamaguchi, Kodansha, 1981, no. 80, p. 205 (illustrated)
As one of Japan’s leading postwar abstract artists, Takeo Yamaguchi was a vanguard of his time, and is considered an important pioneer of Japanese avant garde art. Yamaguchi was born in 1902 in Seoul under Japanese rule and returned to Japan when he was nineteen years old, enrolling at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts (the present-day University of the Arts, Tokyo). During his three years in the Western Painting Department, the young artist was exposed to the western mediums of oil and canvas, and pursued this method (yoga—“Western painting”) for the rest of his artistic career. As opposed to the traditional nihonga (“Japanese painting”), yoga championed the use of impasto and attention to realism, in lieu of paper or silk works created with ink. Yamaguchi graduated in 1927 and moved to Paris, encountering first-hand Cubist and Fauvist art, the former of which remained an integral influence in his works. Returning to Tokyo four years later, Yamaguchi joined the official salon, Ninth Room Association (Kyushitsu-kai), of Ninth Room (Kyushitsu), an artistic entity that organized annual exhibitions held at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, specifically dedicated to avant-garde works. Kyushitsu-kai’s members included Jiro Yoshihara, who would later go on to found the eminent group, Gutai.
The present piece, Work, was exhibited during an extremely early iteration of the Tokyo Biennale, then named the International Art Exhibition of Japan, in 1953. Set up by the Mainichi Newspaper in 1952, the International Art Exhibition was a key platform for leading artists to gain global exposure in the immediate post-war era, and the current work’s inclusion in this show is an undoubted testament to its quality and innovative appeal. Work is an early piece exhibiting Yamaguchi’s signature style: pieces composed of defined geometric shapes in deep red or yellow ochre, smoothed onto canvases using a palette knife and set against a dense black background. Far from merely emulating the Art Informel and Abstract Expressionist styles that were becoming prominent and popular in Japan in the fifties and sixties, Yamaguchi deftly showed his bold attempts to reconcile Eastern minimalism with Western mediums. A willful individualist and pioneer of abstract art, Yamaguchi would go on to have his works included in the collections of various prestigious institutions, most notably the Guggenheim, which included the artist’s work in its inaugural exhibition, Inaugural Selection, in 1959, as well as the Museum of Modern Art and the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, attesting to the high caliber of his pieces and his historical significance as a painter.
New York Auction 8 May 2016