Kumi Sugaï - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale New York Tuesday, November 10, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Galerie Stangl, Munich
    Christie's, London, Contemporary Art, December 3, 1992, lot 3
    Private Collection, Japan

  • Exhibited

    Hannover, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Kumi Sugai, September 12 – October 20, 1963
    Hyogo, Museum of Modern Art Hyogo, KUMI SUGAÏ, April 8 – June 4, 2000, then traveled to Tokyo, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, June 24 – August 20, 2000

  • Literature

    Kumi Sugai, exh. cat., Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hannover, 1963, no. 22
    SUGAI 1952 – 1975, exh. cat. Bijutsu Shuppan-sha, Tokyo, 1976, p. 177, no. 27.
    KUMI SUGAÏ, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art Hyogo and Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, 2000, no. 21

  • Catalogue Essay

    Kumi Sugai’s work KAGURA presents the artist’s attempt to create his own creative typography. Here, one sees various forms creating the likeness of a human figure or architectural structure. Sugai’s use of a thick horizontal line in red against white background echoes the colors of a costume originating from the Heian period (794–1185) associated with dancers who are female shamans. Meanwhile, the trapezoidal form embracing a circle standing on the triangular bottom simulates a balance of an early Shinto shrine structure. Literally meaning “music dedicated to gods,” KAGURA is an early form of Shinto religious music and dance. Referencing the pictographic origin of Kanji characters (letters adopted from Chinese characters), he transposes the dancer-like motif into a sign that brings abstraction and writing infinitely closer. In many of his late 1950s works, Sugai made use of this linguistic strategy, playing with the relationship between signifiant (signifier) and signifié (signified). As the artist’s own formal invention, KAGURA becomes an empty signifiant that is infinitely open-ended and malleable to allow for any number of meanings. While many European and American artists working in Paris contemporaneously with Sugai concerned themselves with the visual affinity between gestural abstraction and Asian calligraphy, Sugai cultivated a completely new field of encounter between East and West in the structuralist linguist mode of thinking.

Property from a Private Collection, Tokyo


KAGURA (Sacred Music and Dance)

oil on canvas
54 3/8 x 44 7/8 in. (138 x 114 cm)
Signed and dated "汲 [Kumi] SUGAÏ" lower right; further signed, titled and dated "SUGAÏ 58 'KAGURA'" on the reverse.

$250,000 - 350,000 

Sold for $293,000

Contact Specialist
John McCord
Head Day Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1261

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

New York Auction 10 November 2015 11am