The occupation of Japan by the United States following World War II intensified the cultural exchange between the former enemies. The Americans officially left in 1952, but the dialogue continued, fostered by exhibitions, periodicals, and travel. Artists in both nations sought to create an art that—in its subject matter, materials, and making—was closely intertwined with daily life, in contrast to the heroic gestural paintings garnering attention at the time.
The Japanese group Gutai rejected art as a vehicle for the individual psyche or humanist values, focusing instead on engaging with materials through physical actions—by shoveling paint across a canvas, for example—often in front of audiences. Gutai artists and their peers incorporated elements from their surroundings, which bore signs of postwar devastation and rapid economic growth. In the United States, artists interested in the everyday combined found objects with traditional art materials in “assemblages.” They challenged the mythology of the sole creator by relying on collaboration, including with viewers, to realize their works.
Organized by Thomas (T.) Jean Lax, Curator, Department of Media and Performance, and Cara Manes, Associate Curator, Department of Painting and Sculpture, with Danielle Johnson, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Drawings and Prints.