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Espai d’art contemporani de Castello Announces Atsuko Tanaka. The Art of Connecting

The Espai d’art contemporani de Castello presents Atsuko Tanaka. The Art of Connecting open 7 October–31 December 2011.

This exhibition is the fruit of several years of joint curatorship and enthusiasm on behalf of Espai d’art contemporani de Castelló, Ikon Gallery from Birmingham, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo and the Japan Foundation. The most exhaustive survey to date of Atsuko Tanaka’s work strikes a balance of all aspects of her practice, spanning from her early gestural work, including documentation of Gutai performances from the 1950s, to paintings made shortly before her death in 2005, bringing together a total of almost one hundred works from twenty-five collections worldwide.

For Espai d’art contemporani de Castelló this show is an exercise in recovering the memory of one of the most outstanding Asian artists of the 1950s and 60s, both for her contributions to the analysis of painting as medium, as well as for breaking boundaries and for her engagement with other media and, in short, for the importance and influence of her work on her contemporary artists and on later generations.

The opening pieces in this exhibition bear witness to the artist’s earliest works. There are two paper collages from her series Calendar from 1954 which mimetically refer to a period of hospitalization. In these works there are a series of numbers repeated without any apparent connection or significance. While the meaning remains obscure, it captures the idea of counting, like stitches, which could well be considered an implicit exercise in meditation.

The exhibition continues with two of her better-known works, namely Bell, from 1955, and Electric Dress, from 1956. We will also see three Untitled (Study for ‘Bell’), a series of much more technical drawings where, once again, one can discern the poignant relationship between space and audience and the system of electric circuits, which in some ways portends her later Electric Dress. Alongside this last-named sculpture, also on display are a dozen drawings she made at the same time called Electric Dress Drawing, which tend to be more stylistically free and can in fact be seen as precursors of the paintings that Tanaka was to make in the final years of the 1950s.

The survey also includes an overview of the artist’s period with Gutai from 1957–1963. The treatment of the canvases is elegant and agile, yet at once random; the elements appear set apart one from the other by a lot of space, on the other hand a feature typical of oriental painting, though at the same time they are nevertheless interrelated by small connections. Her last paintings while still with Gutai reveal a world totally dominated by circular forms coupled with lines that run through the paintings as if they were some kind of electric circuits.

Finally, the exhibition is completed with works from her post-Gutai period, from 1966–2004, after leaving the group in 1965. Her work from then on has often been interpreted as merely ornamental colourist abstraction, though undercut by a subtle intensity in the act of creation. That said, these were defiant, intentionally highly personal gestures made in a chaotic world. From the beginning, as she foreshadowed in her Calendar, Tanaka continued exploring a complicated temperament and a highly charged leaning towards fusion. Her use of colour was not blindly optimistic, but instead transmitted a belief in the possibility of a positive difference made through action and executed in painting.

Espai d’art contemporani de Castello
Prim s/n 12003. Spain
T + 34 964 72 35 40
F + 34 964 26 07 71

Image: Atsuko Tanaka, “Electric Dress,” 1956 (1986). Takamatsu City Museum of Art. © Ryoji Ito

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