Kazuo Shiraga - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Sunday, November 8, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Galerie Stadler, Paris
    Gallery Georg Nothelfer, Berlin
    Private Collection, Tokyo

  • Literature

    Kazuo Shiraga, exh. cat., Gallery Georg Nothelfer, Berlin, 1992, p. 64

  • Catalogue Essay

    In 1955 Kazuo Shiraga wrote in the Gutai journal:

    In front of me lay an austere road to originality. Run forward, I thought, run and run, it won’t matter if I fall down… Let me do it with my hands, with my fingers. Then, as I ran, thinking that I was moving forward, it occurred to me: Why not feet? Why don’t I paint with my feet?

    Kazuo Shiraga is one of the leading artists in the Gutai Art Association, founded by the painter Jiro Yoshihara (1905–1972) in 1954 in the area around Osaka and Hyogo prefectures in western Japan. Gutai enlisted approximately sixty painter-members during its 18 years of existence and led the postwar Japanese art scene to avant-garde innovations truly contemporaneous to the spirit of experimentation shared by artists around the world. Shiraga became the poster-child of this group with his sensational action painting using his bare feet, a method he had already begun to experiment with prior to joining the group in 1955. Famously in that year, for the first Gutai group exhibition in the Ohara Kaikan Hall in Tokyo, Shiraga performed a work entitled Challenging Mud in front of curious media and confused critics. Although considered to be one of the key moments in the history of postwar Japanese art, this performance of wrestling mud as an act of painting and the Gutai credo of doing what nobody has done before received a cold shoulder from the art critics of the time. Serious critical consideration of the group grew, instead, outside Japan through the eyes of those who found affinity in the Gutai artists' action-oriented expressions with postwar European and American art movements such as the French critic-dealer Michel Tapié.

    Untitled BB64 is an exemplary work from Shiraga's mature period, a time when he achieved capturing the balance between the beautiful and the grotesque. His long-time interest in classic hero stories such as the action-filled Suikoden (Water Margin), a fourteenth-century Chinese novel about 108 outlaws, formed his belief that painting must carry force and individualism as strong as those represented by the characters. The thick impasto of his painting was then created by the artist boldly stepping onto blobs of oil paint on an un-stretched canvas laid flat on the floor; after depositing a large amount of paint directly from paint tubes onto the canvas. Shiraga, then, holding onto a rope hung from the ceiling, swung around in the paint as it oozed out from under his feet. As he slipped and turned, his feet created a swoosh of calligraphic lines, turning the colors’ entanglement and merging with little care for human intention. In Shiraga’s work, the paint as material became both the subject of the work and an agent of the artist's body reviving his presence in mind each time it is seen by the viewer. In 1958 art critic Harold Rosenberg observed that the emergence of postwar American abstraction was a rediscovery of the canvas “as an arena in which to act” by the artists. Shiraga’s audacious act of stepping literally onto the canvas began in 1954 and anticipated this expansion of the field of painting.

    Along with Shiraga, many of the early Gutai artists during the late 1950s to early-1960s placed a strong emphasis on tracing physical movements in their work. The tendency relates to Tachisme and Art Informel in Europe, and Abstract Expressionism in the United States, and arose contemporaneously to the activities of Gutai in Japan. In all these artistic movements it was the postwar angst exposed in existentialist philosophy that urged artists to grasp the reality by corporal action, textual concentration, and tackling the subject of exploration of the human subconscious. Part of Gutai, and most significantly Shiraga's, uniqueness lies in an unfettered access to a playful approach to artistic mediums, which may have resulted fortuitously from Japan’s shorter history of engagement with the tradition of oil painting introduced to the country in the late 19th century.


Untitled BB64

oil on canvas
31 7/8 x 45 5/8 in. (81 x 116 cm)
Signed "白髪 一雄 [Shiraga Kazuo]" lower left.

$2,000,000 - 3,000,000 

Contact Specialist
Kate Bryan
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1267

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 8 November 2015 7pm