Atsuko Tanaka - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Tuesday, May 14, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Private Collection
    Shinwa Auction Co., Tokyo, April 5, 2008, lot 321
    Private Collection, Milan
    Hauser & Wirth
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2013

  • Catalogue Essay

    Painted in 1985, 85-E presents a powerful continuation of Atsuko Tanaka’s pioneering performances and installations from the mid-1950s. A leading member of the Gutai group, Tanaka set the foundation of much of her painterly practice in the works she presented in the first and second installments of the Gutai Art Exhibition, in 1955 and 1956 respectively. Work (Bell) consisted of a circuit of ringing bells, which, when activated by viewers, created a chain of chimes throughout the exhibition that grew and waned in volume; Electric Dress, perhaps Tanaka’s best-known work, presented a wearable contraption composed entirely of light bulbs and tubes. Tanaka notably left an indelible impression on Michel Tapié, who highlighted her when remarking in his A Mental Reckoning of My First Trip to Japan: “I have a deep respect for the whole group [Gutai] as a group, but I would like to name four artists who should appear alongside the most established international figures: Shiraga Kazuo, Shimamoto Shozo, Yoshihara Jiro, and Tanaka Atsuko” (Michel Tapié, A Mental Reckoning of My First Trip to Japan, New York, 1957, n.p.)

    Tanaka’s innovations with light art soon prompted abstracted paintings such as 85-E, which embodies the ethos of Electric Dress in the two-dimensional form. The painting’s copious bursts of radial, vibrant color and disorderly trailed lines allude to the tangled circuitry featured in her happening that unite art and technology. At a time of urbanization in Japan, this work belongs to her iconic series of circle paintings that serves as a time-piece for an advancing civilization and Tanaka’s role in its progression. The interconnectivity of orbs and the movement between them visually conveys the dynamism and immediacy of the continuous alteration of society through a singular image.

    Encapsulating Tanaka’s groundbreaking vision, 85-E pulsates with unbridled energy as a kaleidoscopic constellation of circles and galvanic, dripped lines burst across the expanse of the canvas. Working with her canvases on the groundfloor of her studio, Tanaka created this painting by first freely creating bright circles, and then adding meandering lines to join them to one another. Tanaka’s effervescent forms are charged with an energy that electrifies the pathways dancing between them, brilliantly enhanced by her use of synthetic polymer paint – her favored medium for its fluidity and high-shine finish. Acting as a two-dimensional performance, 85-E zestfully reflects Tanaka’s almost singular preoccupation with capturing energy itself – radiating with a chromatic brilliance comparable to Untitled, 1964, from the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Property from an Esteemed Private Collection



signed and dated "'85 e Atsuko Tanaka"
synthetic polymer paint on canvas
39 3/8 x 31 1/2 in. (100 x 80 cm.)
Executed in 1985.

$250,000 - 350,000 

Sold for $200,000

Contact Specialist
John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 15 May | On View at 432 and 450 Park Avenue