Kazuo Shiraga and the Kazuo Shiraga Memorial Gallery in Amagasaki

Kazuo Shiraga

A project evolving the digitized archive of the book, “GUTAI STILL ALIVE 2015 vol.1”. The 22nd edition introduces former Gutai member and world-renowned artist Kazuo Shiraga. It explores the artist's personal side, from his love for his hometown of Amagasaki in Hyogo Prefecture, to some behind-the-scenes stories about the retrospective exhibitions held after his death.

The Internationally Applauded Artist Kazuo Shiraga And his Love for his Home Town of Amagasaki

The majority of members of Gutai lived in the Kansai region, along their families. And while their first exhibition in 1955 took place in Tokyo’s Ohara Kaikan Hall from then on they transmitted their work directly from the Kansai region to the world without having to go through the capital. This was very much the stance of the Gutai artists.

Kazuo Shiraga was also a core member of the Gutai group who gained international recognition but he always had a special place for his hometown of Amagasaki in Hyogo. In this region there is a famed festival “Kenka Matsuri” (the fighting festival) which according to some sources had an important impact upon Shiraga in his formative years. It is perhaps his solid footing in local culture which enabled him to become an internationally active artist.

On 2nd November 2013, in his hometown of Amagasaki, the Amagasaki Cultural Center opened the Kazuo Shiraga Memorial Gallery. And to mark this event the Center held an exhibition entitled “Kazuo Shiraga – The Way of Painting” until 1st December.

This exhibition included such works as “Honno no Kesshu” (1952), “Ryumyaku1” (1953) amongst other oil paintings which traced his movement towards action painting as exemplified in the “Water Margin Series” through 9 major works.

This exhibition also featured 10 highly prized works publicly exhibited for the first time from the period between 1947-1953, including landscape nihonga works painted during his art school days, and new works discovered after his death with his early oil paintings, introducing the unknown early years of this great artist. All of these works were selected from the Amagasaki city collection.

In addition to these precious works Amagasaki city also holds important pictures, documents and writings of Shiraga. “Shiraga donated many works and documents quite early on. He had been awarded the citizen art award for culture and was also a member of the education board, and made many offerings not only towards art but the whole city itself. He really loved Amagasaki city. And therefore we really had to show our appreciation in return.”

These were the words of the head curator of the Kazuo Shiraga Memorial Gallery, Aya Senoo. In fact she is one who pushed for a Kazuo Shiraga exhibition at the center even before the plan for such a memorial gallery had been laid out.

“It started about 8 years ago, when Shiraga had entered old age, and I was approached with him with the proposal to organize a nationally touring exhibition centering upon this culture center.

“The Kazuo Shiraga Exhibition had been held here in 1981 but this time Shiraga wanted to provide a full overview of his work to date. Before he even consulted me he had thought long and hard about this proposal, he had collated all his series of works and had a list of which art museum each work was owned by. But Shiraga was such a humble man and said “This is just my suggestion but please give it some consideration”. And so we set to work trying to make it happen.”

In order to raise the budget to realize this project the Culture Center began applications for various grants and entered into negotiation with various art museums. But then during these preparations in April 2008 Shiraga sadly passed away and the exhibition became realized as a posthumous retrospective along his original guidelines. In July 2009 the exhibition was held at the center “Kazuo Shiraga – Painting Born from Turbulence” . Continuing from this September saw the first retrospective of Shiraga’s work in the Kanto region presented at the Yokosuka City Art Museum and then in 2010 at the Hekinan City Tatsukichi Fuji Museum of Contemporary Art.

“Shiraga didn’t want to exhibit his work in the traditional chronological order, but rather present them en-masse in a system of his own interest which came to light as he reflected upon his work to date. Many were familiar the 'Water Margin' series and other major works, but those Buddhist series and historical series were not so well recognized, there were interesting studies in watercolors filled with luminosity showing his interest in the medium and the woman power series.”

Shiraga’s conception of this collective exhibition of work was connected with the form of a retrospective and finally realized as a touring show.

In preparation for this major exhibition the team gained support from the Amagasaki Culture Center which agreed to store rare documents, books and other materials which Shiraga had gathered, and this was to prove an important step towards the establishment of the memorial gallery.

“As we were planning the exhibition Shiraga said there was no point privately keeping hold of these documents and he wanted to put them to some use, leading the center to take them on as the Kazuo Shiraga library. These materials were used in the retrospective exhibition and with further valuable additions from relatives they have come to form a precious archive for the memorial gallery. And finally we were able to realize the permanent establishment of this space in 2013.”

With the city’s support in the collection and conservation of Shiraga’s work and documents an important resource has been built for ongoing research into the creative practice of this figure, and further plans for building a digital database and so on will ensure it will be used effectively long into the future.

“For Shiraga, Amagasaki had a special place in his heart. I am not from Amagasaki myself so perhaps I can not fully appreciate this affinity, but quite clearly to study Amagasaki is most important in coming to know the artist and the man who was Kazuo Shiraga. I heard about the famous “Kenka Matsuri” festival of this region, where floats ram against each other and monsters appear, but as a child this had a great impression upon Shiraga. Perhaps the red that Shiraga uses in his work is directly related to this festival.”

The establishment of the memorial gallery in him home town of Amagasaki reveals an important understanding between Shiraga and the city, and marks a significant step in the recognition of this.

(Mothly Gallery, June 2014)

Read more about the “Gutai Art Association »

*Information in this article is at the time of publication.

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