gutai and guggenheim


With great expectations I went to see the Gutai Exhibition at the Guggenheim. And a lot can go wrong when expectations are high.

Gutai was a Japanese avant-garde movement that was formed in 1954 and lasted till 1972. At the exhibition the term GUTAI is translated as CONCRETENESS, although some sources also speak of EMBODIMENT, and could refer to the way the body can be used as a tool.

The members of the Gutai group saw beauty in decay and had a predilection for raw materials. Very often they created with their feet or their entire body. Works were made by dancing or sliding on paint laden canvas. Or rolling and turning in a pool of mud.

In many cases, the action of art making was more important than the result itself. Some works at the exhibition go accompanied by the video. Later this art would be called Happenings, Performance, Installation and in a broader sense, Conceptual Art.

The central piece of the exhibition is WORK: WATER, by Motonaga Sadamasa. The installation of plastic tubes partially filled with colored water spans the entire rotunda of the Guggenheim. Undoubtedly the biggest eye-catcher of the exhibition, it’s maybe not the most representative piece of the Gutai movement.

As for my expectations, I can say that the Gutai exhibition is a must-see for any lover of abstract or Japanese modern art.

But here it comes: but!

I always seem to have a problem with the Guggenheim building. Let me get this straight: it’s a fascinating building. But I think that it’s not the ideal structure for showing art. The inclined spiral ramp always gives the impression that the canvases are crooked. And there is nothing more annoying than a square painting that’s not hanging straight!

The spectacular and monumental skylight allows, it must be said, some dramatic natural light to flow through the atrium. But it is never enough to duly illuminate the works that are presented on the walls along the spiral ramp. And the artificial lighting is not helping there neither!

The inside spiral and the intricate pattern of the skylight are strong architectural features that tend to avert one’s attention away from the art they embrace. At the same time, it’s these very features that allow the visitor to walk up and around the central work WATER, to view it from an infinite number of view points.

But don’t listen to me. Go and see for yourself.


GUTAI : A Splendid Playground – Guggenheim, NYC – through May 8

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6 thoughts on “gutai and guggenheim

  1. RagDollsRising says:

    Guati’s work drew me in. Especially the liquid in the tubing which made me feel weight and motion at the same time. I have to disagree with your statement about the Guggenheim, having been there myself, the building is a work of art in it’s self.

    • In my text I mention very clearly that the Guggenheim is a most fascinating building, and indeed, as you say it, a work of art in itself. There we agree.
      But that’s maybe where the problem is: the Guggenheim is such a strong piece of art itself and works best on its own. By this I also mean that it seems difficult to combine it with other art, especially abstract art that doesn’t allow too much distraction around it.
      I love the Guggenheim building. I have taken tons of pictures of it over the last three years. But I would have liked to see Gutai in a more “neutral” place.
      Thank you for reading my blog and for your opinion.

  2. David says:

    The building is an incredible challenge to a curator . . . The art probably works better in photographs so that you can keep the eye from jumping all over the place 🙂

  3. daramark says:

    Thanks for this. You are my eye in NY.

  4. Lieve says:

    I visited the Guggenheim museum in between 2 exhibitions, maybe the best moment indeed to get enchanted by the building itself without having to split your attention….

  5. David Emeron says:

    The idea, of course was to allow everyone to walk by everything, (so so I have read) Still, here is a joke:

    If you count each 360 degree trip around the spiral of the Guggenheim, how many rings are there?

    [your answer here]

    punchline: No, there are nine rings.

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