Shusaku Arakawa - 20th Century & Contemporary Art: Online Auction, New York New York Thursday, December 7, 2023 | Phillips

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  • Or Space, 1978–1980, exhibits how deeply rooted in metaphysics and semiology the oeuvre of Shusaku Arakawa is.  The right side of the work is engulfed by a sandy beige tone while the left side is comprised of a full color chart sectioned into squares, reminiscent of paint swatches. An array of radiating lines sprawls across the entirety of the work, conjuring thoughts of cartographic delineations. An assortment of scattered guidelines, both curved and straight, as well as rogue arrows shooting across the plane add to the diagrammatic aura underscoring the work. In the middle of the work lie several lines of text. While the phrases seem disjointed at first glance, they are crucial cogs in the vast network of iconography that constitute the artist’s complex visual language. His work embodies a philosophical exploration of the complexity of human thought and the systems with which we derive meaning.


    Viewing and experiencing Arakawa’s work necessitates active participation. Deciphering the multitude of symbols and grappling with their didactic connotations becomes a dynamic process. The fragments of Arakawa’s interpretive visual vocabulary invite deeper inspection with the allure of familiarity, recalling recognized representations of methods of organizing human thought such as flow charts and blueprints. While distilling the intricacies of an Arakawa painting into a singular salient narrative is difficult, the diagrammatic visual language clearly references the overarching concept of human understanding. Italian writer Italo Calvino captures this self-referential idiosyncrasy, noting that Arakawa’s works are not like a human mind but rather, “after studying one of Arakawa’s painting[s]; it is [I] who begin to feel that my mind is “like” the picture.”i

    “The blank is the color of the mind. The mind has a color that we never see because some other color always passes through our minds and superimposes itself on our gaze. Only Arakawa’s glance is so swift that it succeeds in catching the right color and communicating it. Then we recognize it without a shadow of doubt, as if we had always seen it. The mind can have no other color but that of Arakawa’s paintings.” ii
    —Italo Calvino 

    Arakawa is perhaps best known for his artistic and personal partnership with American poet Madeline Gins, which began in the early 1960s and continued until his death in 2010. The couple created intensely philosophical works in a multitude of mediums including painting, film, writing and architecture. The most prominent example of their collaborative efforts was a research project titled The Mechanism of Meaning, 1963–1971, 1978, in which the couple investigated the undercurrents of consciousness. Revolving around a series of 80 large paintings by Arakawa, the work involves essays, photographs and drawings. The couple also designed several houses and public spaces rooted in a unique philosophy regarding the relationship between humans and their environments. Arakawa and Gins believed that life could be extended by living in unconventional spaces that constantly challenge their inhabitants. The Reversible Destiny Lofts – Mitaka (In Memory of Helen Keller), completed in 2005 and located in Mitaka, Tokyo, as well as the Bioscleave House, completed in 2008 and located in East Hampton, Long Island, are two of the most famous examples of the couple’s architecture. 


    Arakawa’s work has been the subject of exhibitions at several esteemed institutions across the world, including the Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris (1970), The Museum of Modern Art in New York, Tokyo Museum of Art (1989) and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York (1997). His work can be found in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Centre Pompidou and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.



    i Italo Calvino, “The Arrow in the Mind,” Artforum, trans. Patrick Creagh, vol. 24, no. 1, September 1985, online.

    ii Ibid

    • Provenance

      Private Collection, Florida
      Private Collection, Florida
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2018


Or Space

signed, titled and dated "Or Space ARAKAWA 1978–80" lower right
oil on canvas
80 x 131 in. (203.2 x 332.7 cm)
Painted in 1978–1980.

Full Cataloguing

$20,000 - 30,000 

Sold for $33,020

Contact Specialist

Katerina Blackwood
Associate Specialist, Head of Online Sales, New York
20th Century & Contemporary Art
+1 212 940 1248

20th Century & Contemporary Art: Online Auction, New York

7 - 14 December 2023