Atsuko Tanaka - Modern & Contemporary Art Day Sale Hong Kong Saturday, June 1, 2024 | Phillips
  • “Tanaka’s paintings deeply affects the viewer’s spirit through the implication that the boundary of ‘self’ that we feel to be fixed can actually be changed, with the potential of structuring a new relationship to the world.”
    — Mizuho Kato 


    The Spirit of the Gutai Manifesto



    Founded in 1954, the ‘Gutai’ group officially known as the Gutai Art Association became Japan’s first post-war radical art movement that was characterised by its innovative and experimental approach to art making. Formed by a group of young artists under the leadership of Jiro Yoshihara, these individuals relentlessly sought ways to challenge traditional notions of art by redefining the boundaries of what art could be and invited viewers to actively engage with their works, both physically and intellectually.


    The renowned Gutai artists such as Kazuo Shiraga, Atsuko Tanaka, Sadamasa Motonaga, and Tsuyoshi Maekawa often placed emphasis on the materiality of art as this enabled them to discover new artistic avenues and expand the possibilities of artistic expression. In doing so, Gutai artists established pioneering techniques and experimented with a wide range of media that allowed them to fully engage with the creative process. Gutai artists also valued spontaneity, improvisation and the element of chance in their creative practice as this allowed the materials to dictate the direction of the composition in creating immersive sensory experiences for the audience. Blurring the lines between art and experience, many of Gutai’s early achievements foreshadowed later developments in happenings, performance art, and conceptual art. The use of different textures, colours, and forms had fostered a spirit of innovation and stimulated artistic discourse that extended beyond Japan and continues to inspire artists worldwide today.


    Atsuko Tanaka’s Precarious Subjectivity and Painterly Exploration



    A pivotal member of Gutai and the group’s foremost female member, Atsuko Tanaka has made significant contributions with her radical works that vividly exemplify Gutai’s progressive and almost self-destructive materialist aesthetics. One of her most iconic pieces, the installation Electric Dress showcases a fierce sensory confrontation and the tumultuous interplay between Takana’s own corporeal existence and the external material world. The installation takes the form of a kimono dress, consisting of over 200 painted electric lightbulbs, weighing more than 50kg. During the Second Gutai Exhibition in 1956, Tanaka personally wore the electrically charged Electric Dress, engaging in a captivating dance while pirouetting, aiming to draw lines and shapes in the air with the flashing neon light. The work—with its intense weight, heat, and luminosity—boldly challenged preconceived notions of the relationship between oneself and the material, placing Tanaka’s own subjectivity within a precarious state and prompting her to ponder: “I had the fleeting thought: Is this how a death-row inmate would feel?”i


    Tanaka’s exploration of painting following her involvement with Gutai translates the ephemeral and immaterial Electric Dress performance into a tangible form. Executed in 1988, the present lot 88D embodies a similar tension with its organically tangled composition of circular shapes and uneven linear strokes, as if capturing the glaring lines of lights created by the spinning electric circuits during the performance. Despite being a two-dimensional oil-on-canvas piece, 88D is full of drama with vivid colorisation in black, blue, orange, and yellow. With each brushstroke, Tanaka immerses herself fully in the canvas, leaving behind not only physical traces of her engagement with the medium but also marks that measure the spatial and temporal reach of her corporeal presence.


    Tanaka’s painting practice also introduces a contemplative dimension to her ongoing artistic inquiries. Her questioning of the boundaries of self takes on a different perspective: while Electric Dress reveals the precarious subjective existence in each immediate, momentary collision between the artist’s body and the electric bulb, with painting Tanaka expresses this concern as a continuous lifelong negotiation. 88D is part of a larger series of works that Tanaka has produced over the span of fifty years. The repetitive nature of these works adds a mechanical quality, which is yet immediately disrupted by the vibrant, ever-changing organic composition. Together they form a lively testament to Tanaka’s relentless quest for the self in confrontation with both art and the external world.


    i Quoted in Namiko Kunimoto, The Stakes of Exposure: Anxious Bodies in Postwar Japanese Art, Minneapolis, 2017, p. 144.

    • Provenance

      Private Collection
      Mallat Japan, Tokyo, 25 March 2011, lot 124
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner




signed, titled and dated '1988 "88D" Atsuko Tanaka' on the reverse
enamel on canvas
117 x 91 cm. (46 1/8 x 35 7/8 in.)
Executed in 1988.

Full Cataloguing

HK$1,400,000 - 2,400,000 

Sold for HK$1,397,000

Contact Specialist

Anastasia Salnikoff
Associate Specialist, Head of Day Sale
+852 2318 2014

Modern & Contemporary Art Day Sale

Hong Kong Auction 1 June 2024