5th Anniversary of the National Art Center,Tokyo
GUTAI: The Spirit of an Era

Exhibition Overview

The Gutai Art Association (or Gutai) was an avant-garde group formed in 1954 by a collection of young artists living in the Hanshin region that was led by the pioneering Kansai abstract painter Yoshihara Jiro. (The group disbanded in 1972.) The name "Gutai" was meant to" present concrete proof that our spiritis free." (The literal meaning of the word "gutai" is "concrete.")

"Spirt" was considered to be specific to each individual but also an abstract entity. Gutai's leader Yoshihara Jiro relentlessly demanded that the group's members make art unlike any that had ever existed in the past, and further, that these expressions be abstract in nature. He also organized exhibitions to show their work in parks, on stage, and in the sky. The members responded by producing a succession of creative and innovative works rooted in fantastic concepts. Although the artists'activities were largely ignored in Japan at the time, the group was highly acclaimed abroad and the name "GUTAI" came to be widely recognized in the Western art world in the late '50s.

After the group's dissolution, a number of Gutai retrospectives were held in European museums. In Japan, however, despite a movement to reappraise the group that began gaining momentum in the '80s and a few retrospectives at museums in the Kansai area, there has unfortunately never been an event held in Tokyo that focused on the entirety of Gutai's 18-year career held in Tokyo. This will be the first. The '50s and '60s, the period during which Gutai emerged, were notable for Japan's miraculous recovery, which was achieved through soaring economic growth in the wake of the country's defeat in World War II. In this exhibition, we present a collection of approximately 150 works which, through an abundance of challenging spirit and creative energy, function as a symbol of that era.

Dates July4(Wed.) - September10(Mon.),2012
Closed on Tuesdays
Museum hours 10:00 - 18:00 (10:00 - 20:00 on Fridays)
*Admission up to 30 minutes before closing
Venue The National Art Center, Tokyo, Special Exhibition Gallery 1E
7-22-2 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Organizer The National Art Center, Tokyo
General 1,000yen (Adults), 500yen (College Students)
Advance 800yen (Adults), 300yen (College Students)
Group 800yen (Adults), 300yen (College Students)
  • Admission is free for high school students and those under 18, and for those with physical disability certificates and one accompanying person.
  • Group tickets are applicable to 20 or more people and available only at the venue.
  • Group rates will apply to those with tickets or ticket stubs of special exhibitions held concurrently at The National Art Center,Tokyo, Suntory Museum of Art and Mori Art Museum.
  • General and advance tickets may also be purchased through Ticket Pia (P-code: 765-133) and Lawson Ticket (L-code: 32349)
  • The Advance tickets are sold from April 25 until July 3,2012. (from May 16 until July 2,2012 at the venue)
  • For Students, faculty and staff, of "Campus Members", group discounts are applied for purchasing tickets.
  • Credit card (UC,Master Card, VISA, JCB, AMEX, Diners Club, DISCOVER) and electronic money (Suica, PASMO, ICOCA, etc.) are available for purchasing tickets.
  • For details and the latest information on related events, see the center website:http://www.nact.jp/
Enquiries TEL: 03-5777-8600 (Hello Dial)

Highlights of the Exhibition

1.1.The Challenging Spirit and Creative Energy of the Age
Nineteen fifty-five, the year in which Gutai was formally launched, marked the start of the economic boom that triggered Japan's postwar recovery. And 1972, the year in which the group was disbanded, was notable for the Oil Crisis, which signaled an end to economic expansion in the country. In other words, the 18-year career of Gutai precisely overlaps with Japan's period of high economic growth. The creative energy, the challenging spirit to discover new forms of beauty, the idealistic notion of communicating with people in every country through art, and the sense of originality that amazed the entire world, all of which led to the advent of Gutai's works, continue to evoke a sense of brightness, bravery, and vitality even today.
2.The First Large-Scale Retrospective in Tokyo
Although there have been a number of retrospectives of Gutai's work in the past, primarily in the Kansai region, there has not been a single examination of the group in Tokyo since an exhibition that focused on a limited period of Gutai's career that was held at the Shoto Museum of Art in Shibuya in 1990. While there have been many opportunities to reappraise the group in the West in recent years, this exhibition is notable as the first (and long-awaited) large-scale retrospective of Gutai to be held in Tokyo, where seeing the group's actual works has been nearly impossible. Moreover, the exhibition will only be presented in Tokyo.
3.An Opportunity to Verify the True Nature of Gutai
As this exhibition deals with the entire 18-year span of Gutai's career, from its formation to its dissolution, we have attempted to provide a comprehensive introduction to the works of each member who was involved in each phase of the group in order to determine the true essence of Gutai as a whole. As one of the most important avant-garde movements in Japanese art history, exactly what kind of group was Gutai?
What was the real significance of the group's activities? What kind of historical, epochal, and cultural background did the group emerge from?
This exhibition sets out to answer a wide range of questions regarding the true nature of Gutai.
4.Gutai Works Return to Japan for the First Time in 50 Years Previously Unseen Film Footage of the Group
As the majority of Gutai's works could not be sold in Japan at the time they were created, many were acquired by foreign collectors. Some of these works were bought back in the '80s, and are now housed in Japanese museum collections, but a large number are still owned by Western museums and collectors. In this retrospective, we are pleased to present the first homecoming of some of these works in approximately half a century. In addition, we will be screening some long-sought-after but only recently discovered newsreel footage of the historic 1st Gutai Art Exhibition, held at Ohara Hall in Tokyo in 1955.

Related Events

Reappraising Gutai in the Past and Present
Sat., July 14 f rom 13:00 to 17:00 (Doors open at 12:30)
Speakers: KAWASAKI Koichi (independent curator), YURUGI Yasuhiro (art critic), Mattijs VISSER (director, Zero Foundation), Ming TIAMPO (associate professor, Carleton University; guest cocurator of Guggenheim Museum's Gutai exhibition), and HIRAI Shoichi (curator in charge of this exhibition, the National Art Center, Tokyo)
In this discussion, with presentations by those who have been involved in organizing Gutai exhibitions, we will examine how attempts to reappraise the group in the wake of its dissolution in 1972 developed in Japan and abroad, and how Gutai's work is currently viewed.
[Round-Table Discussion]
Gutai as Seen from the Perspective of the 3Ms
Sat., August 4 from 14:00 to 15:30 (Doors open at 13:30)
MAEKAWA Tsuyoshi, MATSUTANI Takesada, and MUKAI Shuji (all former members of Gutai) The three artists, who became members of Gutai one after another in the early '60s, came to be known as the 3Ms due to the fact that their surnames all began with the letter "m." In this event, they will relate a variety of episodes connected to their time in the group and share their personal perspectives on Gutai.

*All events will be held in the auditorium on the third floor of the National Art Center, Tokyo. Limited to 260 people (first-come, first served); admission is free but participants are required to show an exhibition ticket (or ticket stub).

*Time and content of events are subject to change without notice.
For details and the latest information on related events, see the museum website.