Takeo Yamaguchi - 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Evening Sale Hong Kong Saturday, November 26, 2016 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Nakacho Konishi Arts, Tokyo
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Pure abstraction is at the heart of Takeo Yamaguchi’s work. Considered a pioneer of contemporary Japanese art, Yamaguchi was heavily involved in the initial development of the Japanese avant garde, exhibiting his works as early as in 1953, during the seminal Tokyo Biennale (later renamed the International Art Exhibition of Japan). The artist’s first notable ascension to critical acclaim occurred in 1954, after Yamaguchi attained the highest award at the First Contemporary Art Exhibition of Japan together with fellow artist Sotaro Yasui. As Yamaguchi gained in both aplomb and artistic adeptness, his works were exhibited in eminent new shows, and in 1959, the artist’s innovative 1958 Work—Yellow (Unstable Square) was displayed at the inaugural exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

    Work offers a prescient glimpse of the directly comparable later piece, Yamaguchi’s Work—Yellow (Unstable Square), prominently shown in the Guggenheim’s rotunda in 1959. Compared with its later counterpart, Work is perhaps livelier, featuring knots coiling around a long central pillar. Work also typifies Yamaguchi’s style: defined geometric shapes in deep red or yellow ochre, smoothed onto canvases using a palette knife and set against dense black backgrounds. To achieve this, the artist’s mode of creation is laborious; smoothing multiple layers of thick impasto onto his canvases, Yamaguchi’s works are in many ways biotic, rich in texture and depth, and akin to a rustic earth-like quality, reminiscent of the soil of his birth place, Seoul, where he lived until his return to Japan in 1921.

    Notably, Yamaguchi utilises impasto, pigments, canvases and palette knives, materials which are in stark contrast to the ink, paper, silks and brushes that the traditional Japanese nihonga style ('Japanese painting') championed. In 1922, Yamaguchi enrolled at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts. During his three years in the Western Painting Department, the young artist was introduced to oil and canvas, and pursued yoga—'Western painting'—for the rest of his artistic career. Yamaguchi graduated in 1927 and moved to Paris, encountering first-hand Cubist and Fauvist art, the former of which remained an integral influence in his works.

    Upon his return to Japan, Yamaguchi’s unprecedented abstraction was difficult to assimilate into an antiquated system that dichotomised art into the two categories of Western figurative paintings or traditional Japanese art. Resisting this, Yamaguchi joined the official salon, Ninth Room Association (Kyushitsu-kai), of Ninth Room (Kyushitsu), an artistic entity that organised annual exhibitions held at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, specifically dedicated to avant-garde works. Kyushitsu-kai’s members included Jiro Yoshihara, who would later go on to found the eminent group, Gutai.

    Yamaguchi’s art remained resolute in its abstraction; meticulous and steadfast in its attempts to fully grasp the intrinsic structures in shapes and forms. Far from merely emulating the Art Informel and Abstract Expressionist styles that were prominent in Japan in the fifties and sixties, Yamaguchi deftly reconciled Eastern minimalism with Western mediums. A willful individualist and pioneer of abstract art, Yamaguchi’s works are included in the collections of prestigious institutions, most notably the Guggenheim in New York, the Museum of Modern Art and the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, attesting to the high calibre of his pieces and his historical significance as a painter.

Property of an Important Asian Collector



signed, titled and dated 'Work 1955 Takeo Yamaguchi [in Hanji]' on the reverse
oil on board
90.5 x 60.5 cm (35 5/8 x 23 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1955.

HK$1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Sold for HK$1,187,500

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20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 27 November 2016