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With our present awareness, the arts we have known up to now appear to us in general to be fakes fitted out with a tremendous affectation. Let us take leave of these piles of counterfeit objects on the altars, in the palaces, in the salons and the antique shops. These objects are in disguise and their materials such as paint, pieces of cloth, metals, clay or marble are loaded with false significance by human hand and by way of fraud, so that, instead of just presenting their own material, they take on the appearance of something else. Under the cloak of an intellectual aim, the materials have been completely murdered and can no longer speak to us. Lock these corpses into their tombs. Gutai art does not change the material but brings it to life. Gutai art does not falsify the material …

So begins the Gutai Manifesto, written by Jiro Yoshihara in 1956 (English translation here). In the late 1940s, Gutai co-founder Shozo Shimamoto had started aestheticising holes in stretched canvases (see here), emphasising the corporeal contact made between painter and painting (incidentally, Fontana was developing his Cuts around the same time in Italy).

Pictured here is Gutai artist Saburo Murakami’s action work at the 2nd Gutai Art Exhibition in Ohara Hall, Tokyo, in 1956 (below is a reconstruction of the same work in a Gutai retrospective at the 2009 Venice Biennale). Concerning himself with the physical reality of the painter’s canvas, his bodily intervention complicated the relationship between art production and performance.

The Gutai Group’s work around Japan in the ’50s and ’60s anticipated later performance art, happenings and conceptualism in the west, and they had an especially formative influence on the Fluxus movement. They were explicitly concerned with the materiality of art (gutai means ‘tangible’ or ‘concrete’) and, by extension, its material degradation. The manifesto continues:

… what is interesting in this respect is the novel beauty to be found in works of art and architecture of the past which have changed their appearance due to the damage of time or destruction by disasters in the course of the centuries. This is described as the beauty of decay, but is it not perhaps that beauty which material assumes when it is freed from artificial make-up and reveals its original characteristics? The fact that the ruins receive us warmly and kindly after all, and that they attract us with their cracks and flaking surfaces, could this not really be a sign of the material taking revenge, having recaptured its original life? …

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Posted by contributor 7:40 PM, August 26th, 2011 1 comment


1 Comment

  1. The restaged sculpture was my mum’s favourite at the 2009 Venice Biennale, she said “Did you see that work Marian, where someone punched through the paper? That was REALLY contemporary”. Funny it was actually made when she was 6 years old, clearly fluxus (or that which influenced it) never goes out of style.

    Comment by Marian Tubbs — September 8, 2011 @ 9:53 am

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