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The Art Movement You’ve Never Heard Of – Gutai

"Art is like a mirror that reflects the society of its time" by Sadamasa Motonaga

I’m pretty sure that not many people have heard the art movement called “Gutai”. The Gutai art movement emerged in post-war Japan, seeking to create a new artistic language that reflected the cultural and political climate. Rejecting traditional values, Gutai artists embraced experimentation and innovation, emphasising performance, materiality, and the physicality of art. Their groundbreaking approach influenced contemporary art worldwide, encouraging artists to explore beyond traditional mediums.

Yayoi Kusama & Gutai

Yayoi Kusama was not a formal member of the Gutai group, but she interacted with Gutai artists and was influenced by their avant-garde approach. Kusama’s use of polka dots and immersive installations developed independently but reflect the innovative spirit shared by the Gutai movement. Both Kusama and Gutai artists sought to push the boundaries of traditional art and explore new forms of artistic expression. While Kusama’s work is distinct from Gutai, their shared emphasis on experimentation and innovation creates a significant connection between them in the development of contemporary art.

What kind of art did they make, then?

Kazuo Shiraga, a key figure in the movement, is best known for his “performance paintings,” in which he would suspend himself from a rope above a large canvas and use his feet to apply paint to the surface. He also used his entire body as a brush to make his paintings by crawling in thick layers of paint and mud. Other Gutai artists used unconventional materials and techniques, such as hurling bottles of paint at a canvas or using remote-controlled machines to draw lines on canvas.

So what were the inspirations for the Gutai artists?

Gutai influenced Fluxus and Happenings, but who influenced the Gutai artists? Can you guess? If you want to find out, I’ve conveniently made a video about it. It’s just a 5-minute video that you can watch while enjoying your coffee. If you know anyone interested in art, forward this email and spread the love to the world! 

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