The influences on and of Tetsumi Kudo

by Matthew Larking

Special To The Japan Times

“Collection 3 — Works Related to Your Portrait: A Tetsumi Kudo Retrospective: From Anti-art of the 1960s to Art of the Present Day” is a contextual exhibition accompanying the superb “Tetsumi Kudo Retrospective” at the National Museum of Art, Osaka. It brings together foreign and Japanese artists, foregrounding something of the diverse visual lexicon that characterized the late 20th-century art scene.

Arranged in three sections, the first is preeminent. It takes up the Art Informel movement of loose, often expressive abstraction in the postwar period that was a reaction to earlier geometric abstraction. This became all the rage in Japanese art from late 1956, though artists in the Osaka-based Gutai Art Association had already established their own precedents. In 1957, on his first visit to Japan, the French critic Michel Tapié recognized Gutai as a kindred spirit to the Informel movement he had originated and Gutai was subsequently relieved of its relative obscurity, featuring widely in international exhibitions. The debt to the French critic is seemingly made clear in a small inscription on the edge of Kazuo Shiraga’s “Tenyusei Hyoshito” (1959), a work the artist painted with his feet, that notes the painting will be offered to Tapié.

Other works are representative of the so-called “anti-art” movement of the early 1960s that succeeded the period shift from painting to sculptural installation. Shintaro Tanaka’s “Music” (1963/1996), for example, is a piano, on top of which is a mechanical contraption that drops down a metal bow on to the keyboard to produce apparently random sounds. Its backdrop is a series of kettles fitted to the wall and these contain decapitated doll heads.

The second section features French artists who Kudo was familiar with in Paris, where he lived from 1962. These include Pierre Raynaud and Niki de Saint Phalle. Significantly, however, nothing here was influential upon Kudo, and other works like those of American Pop artists Andy Warhol and the comic book imagery of Roy Lictenstein were contemporaneous though geographically and stylistically remote.Something of the anti-art approach can be found in the work of Joseph Beuys’ “Intuition” (1968), however, in which he exhibits an unadorned wooden box inside a plexiglass container. Perhaps, inevitably, it is not much to look at.

The final section deals with a handful of works by American artists Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley, who are said to have been fascinated by Kudo’s work. Kelley made intimately scaled cityscapes in acid colors that rhyme a little with Kudo’s fancifully colored oeuvre, though Kelley’s works are depictions of the sole surviving Kryptonian city of Superman lore. McCarthy’s performances were also radically different from Kudo’s concerns.

With contexts spread wide, the real engagements of this show are with the merits of individual works.

“Collection 3 — Works Related to Your Portrait: A Tetsumi Kudo Retrospective: From Anti-art of the 1960s to Art of the Present Day” at The National Museum of Art, Osaka, runs till Jan. 19; open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Fri. till 7 p.m.) ¥420. Closed Mon., Jan. 14 and Dec. 28-Jan. www.nmao.go.jp/en