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San Francisco Art Institute announces first West Coast survey exhibition of Gutai

The San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) is proud to present the first West Coast survey exhibition of Gutai (1954–1972), a significant avant-garde artist collective in postwar Japan whose overriding directive was: “Do something no one’s ever done before.” As one of the nation’s most vital contemporary fine arts institutions—and an epicenter of experimental thinking on the West Coast for more than 140 years—SFAI is the ideal venue for an exhibition that celebrates the legacy of the Gutai artists and contextualizes these important works for a new generation.

Rejecting the figurative and abstract art of the era, and in an effort to transform the Japanese psyche from wartime regimentation to independence of thought, Gutai artists fulfilled their commitment to innovative practices by producing art through concrete, performative actions: smashing paint-filled bottles; full-body wrestling with mud and cement; leaping through a series of paper screens; painting with feet. With a diverse assembly of historical and contemporary art, including several site-specific performances commissioned exclusively for SFAI, Experimental Exhibition of Modern Art to Challenge the Mid-Winter Burning Sun: Gutai Historical Survey and Contemporary Response creates a dialogue with classic Gutai works while demonstrating the lasting significance and radical energy of this movement.

This exhibition showcases North American neo-conceptualist artists’ responses to groundbreaking Gutai performances; original paintings, video, photographs, and ephemera from private collections; and an expansive collection of Mail Art from more than 200 contemporary artists in 30 countries. The exhibition’s nearly two dozen paintings by artists including Jiro Yoshihara, Kazuo Shiraga, and Shozo Shimamoto—several on view for the first time in the U.S.—range from pre-Gutai works to the “action painting” that characterized the early years of the movement to post-Gutai paintings that reveal how the artists remained rooted in their quest for freedom through novel means, even after the group disbanded. Building on the movement’s lineage, the exhibition’s opening reception will debut two performances: Bay Area artist and SFAI alumnus Guy Overfelt will break open the plane of painting atop a motorcycle in response to Saburo Murakami’s Passing Through (1956); and Jeremiah Jenkins, also an alumnus, will respond to Kazuo Shiraga’s Challenging Mud (1955) by taking on the materials as a professional wrestler, complete with WWF-style theatrics.

SFAI’s exhibitions and public programs are supported in part by the Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund. Special thanks to the Ashiya City Museum of Art and History, Museum of Osaka University, Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art, Don Soaker Gallery, Gallery Paule Anglim, Japonesque Gallery, Inc., The Falkenstein Foundation, and private collectors.

Founded in 1871, the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI), a nonprofit art institution, is a vital convening place for arts communities and an international leader in fine arts education. A small school with global impact—notable faculty and alumni include Richard Diebenkorn, Ansel Adams, Annie Leibovitz, Enrique Chagoya, Kathryn Bigelow, Peter Pau, Paul Kos, George Kuchar, Catherine Opie, Lance Acord, Barry McGee, and Kehinde Wiley—SFAI enrolls approximately 650 students in undergraduate and graduate programs, and offers extensive continuing education courses and public programs.

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