Rarely seen Gutai artworks arrive in London

Pieces by members of the avant-garde Japanese group will be on show at The Arts Club from September 13

Sakuhin, by Toshio Yoshida, features a spellbinding cluster of speckled concentric circles
Sakuhin, by Toshio Yoshida, features a spellbinding cluster of speckled concentric circles

“Do what no one has done before,” said Jiro Yoshihara, one of the founders in the 1950s of Japanese art group Gutai, and his fellow members took him at his word, smashing jars of paint and using their bodies as paintbrushes in their mission to create something new. Now The Arts Club in London is also following Yoshihara’s maxim, staging a Gutai exhibition that will feature works and artists that have never previously been shown in London.

Offrez Mes Hommages à Odilon Redon, by Takesada Matsutani, has a pool of dark black Sumi ink above clouds of smudged graphite
Offrez Mes Hommages à Odilon Redon, by Takesada Matsutani, has a pool of dark black Sumi ink above clouds of smudged graphite | Image: Hauser & Wirth

We Impose No Rules (Wednesday September 13 to Saturday January 6) takes its name from Yoshihara’s 1956 Gutai manifesto, and the pieces on display will include Palazzo Ducale 29, a highly abstract work made of acrylic and broken glass by Shozo Shimamoto (one of those making his London debut). Takesada Matsutani kept the glass intact for his Object-Lamp, which features lightbulbs on vinyl adhesive, while his Offrez Mes Hommages à Odilon Redon combines starkly contrasting textures, perching a pool of dark black sumi ink above clouds of smudged graphite.

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Another London debutant, Atsuko Tanaka, has already appeared in major shows at US museums, including the Guggenheim and MoMA (as has Shimamoto), but is still relatively unknown in Europe. The first female member to join Gutai, Tanaka is represented at the exhibition by a huge striking yellow and orange abstract called 2003E, while Sakuhin by Toshio Yoshida features a spellbinding cluster of speckled concentric circles set against a blood-red canvas.

Performance in China 04, by Shozo Shimamoto, depicts an explosion of primary colours
Performance in China 04, by Shozo Shimamoto, depicts an explosion of primary colours | Image: ABC Arte

The Arts Club is not providing exact prices for the works, but says the Matsutanis will be between $140,000 and $350,000, while the Tanakas will demand $350,000-$550,000. Shimamoto’s 1950s and ’60s works will cost $300,000-$1.2m, while his pieces from the 1990s onwards (such as the explosion of primary colours that is his Performance in China 04) will be priced at $150,000-$500,000, and the Yoshidas will be around $350,000.

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“Gutai is one of the most radical postwar art movements,” says the show’s co-curator Amelie von Wedel, founder of Wedel Art. “Works by the most well-known Gutai artist, Kazuo Shiraga, sell for $5m, but pieces by other prominent members such as Shimamoto, Yoshida and Tanaka have not had as much attention – even though they deserve it – and prices for their works are strikingly low in comparison.”

The exhibition is open to members every day, and to non-members by appointment from 10am to midday on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

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