SHOZO SHIMAMOTO | TIME RACK
Curated by Achille Bonito Oliva
Fondazione Sant’Elia | PALERMO
13th June > 6th August 2018
– A colour without matter does not exist. When we are about to create, we do not throw away the brush; there is no hope of emancipating colours. Without the paintbrush the colourants will come to life for the first time. Any tool may be used to good effect in place of a paint brush: one’s bare hands or the paint spatula would be a start. To these we might add the objects that members of the Gutai group use, such as watering cans, umbrellas, vibrators, abaci, skates, and toys, not to mention feet, guns, or anything else. And amid all these, the paintbrush may even reappear, because there is certainly room for something from the past in innovative work like this.
Shozo Shimamoto / ‘Gutai’ Bulletin n.6, Ōsaka, 1957
In the mid-fifties, the Japanese artist Shozo Shimamoto [Osaka, 22nd January 1928 – 25th January 2013], began his adventure in the small city of Ashiya, producing a creative work in public; it was a garden where he and other artists carried out works of art consisting of performances where the work came into being before the eyes of the audience, with all the interference of a live event. Distancing themselves from the surrealist tradition and the influence of Duchamp, the Gutai group powerfully established themselves in terms of a new form of creativity centred around impulse.
Achille Bonito Oliva’s wide-ranging retrospective dedicated to the Japanese artist opens in Palermo at 6 pm on June 13th and runs until 6th August at the Fondazione Sant’Elia. The ‘SHOZO SHIMAMOTO/TIME RACK’ exhibition is a project by the Morra Foundation with the technical, logistic, and organisational support of the Shozo Shimamoto Association and the cooperation of the Fondazione Sant'Elia. A colour catalogue containing articles of particular historical and critical significance accompanies the exhibition, which offers an in-depth study of Shimamoto’s artistic career from his first innovative experiments in the 40s and 50s up to the performances of his last years. During the 1950s, Shimamoto spent his life in Japan – in the East – but he spent the first part of the twenty-first century mainly in the West, where he did his most important performances. The dialectic between these two periods points to an extraordinary, important, and single artistic process. During the 50s, Shimamoto began working as a painter, and, in his search for a new way of seeing and doing painting, he also began working on actions that would gradually transform into happenings. His work throughout his last years in Italy took quite the opposite direction: he used large-scale stage construction as an integral part of his performance, as reflected in the production of works that are the result of a public representative moment. ‘The aim is to expand the aesthetic space of the action as far as possible, encompassing both earth and sky. (...) Ultimately, Shimamoto is a nomadic samurai of art able to hit the mark thanks to the intelligent chance of a creative process seeking to pierce the inertia of the world and energise the community of men’, writes Achille Bonito Oliva.
The works on show at the Fondazione Sant'Elia, from Shimamoto’s early output with the Gutai group to the beautiful explosions of colour of the Campania period, are of great historical importance. The exhibition also brings his works on paper from the 1950s to the Italian public for the very first time. This retrospective dedicated to the works of Shozo Shimamoto is one of the high points of the many events organised as part of the Palermo Italian Capital of Culture 2018 programme.
SHOZO SHIMAMOTO, biographical notes
Shozo Shimamoto was born in Osaka, Japan, in 1928. Co-founder of the Gutai group with Jiro Yoshihara, Shimamoto was one of the most experimental artists in the post-World War II period. Gutai, the first radical artistic movement in Japan, began its work in the 1950s with the aim of injecting new life into the Japanese artistic tradition. For them, a work of art is no longer a mere support but becomes a physical transposition of the artist’s movements, which, like in action painting, transforms it into an action.
Shimamoto, the central figure of the movement, felt the need for new expressive signs, which he found in movement and material. His first artistic experiments, the Ana (holes), dating back to the 1940s, consist of a series of sheets of paper covered by a layer of white paint, in which he made holes. After attending Yoshihara’s studio, he and his teacher decided to found the group they called Gutai – the Concrete Art Movement, in 1954.
At the group’s first official appearance, which took place in 1955 in a pinewood in the city of Ashiya, Shimamoto made a metal sheet painted white on one side and blue on the other. He drilled small holes all through it and, thanks to a light positioned behind it, created the effect of a starry sky in the dark.
After these early experiments, Shimamoto created Please, walk here (1956), a wooden walkway mounted on a system of springs so that those walking on it actively experienced the precariousness of existential walking, and Cannon Work, in which paint is shot onto the canvas from a small cannon, a work that marks the beginning of the artistic journey dedicated to the aleatory liberation of the expressiveness of matter.
Shortly afterwards, Shimamoto developed the bottle crash technique, which consists in throwing bottles full of paint onto a canvas. The work takes form from a process of connection between movement and material, between action and colour. The leitmotif is randomness, and the artist is both agent and actor in a performance shared with the audience – witnesses and complement to the colour scenario constructed by the artist.
In 1957 Shimamoto took part in the first ‘Gutai on the Stage’ exhibition at the Sankei Centre in Osaka, where he showed his video and audio works. At this time he also began holding exhibitions outside Japan, exhibiting in important institutions and galleries like the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and the Musée Cantonal des Beaux Arts in Lausanne.
Upon the death of Yoshihara in 1972, the Gutai Group broke up, and Shimamoto took an interest in Mail Art, an avant-garde practice where sending letters, postcards, envelopes etc., was raised to the level of art by ad hoc modification and delivered to one or more recipients by mail. Shimamoto had his own personal take on it: his shaved head became a medium upon which to write, paint, or affix objects. In 1987 he was invited by Dallas Museum to celebrate the centenary of Duchamp’s birth, for which he projected messages of peace and snippets of film on his head.
In the nineties, he returned to the bottle crash technique, endowing it with new meanings and doing a series of performances in America and across Europe. In 1998 he was chosen, together with Jackson Pollock, John Cage, and Lucio Fontana, as one of the four greatest artists of the period following World War II, to hold an exhibition at the MOCA in Los Angeles, and the following year he took part in the 48th Venice Biennale with David Bowie and Yoko Ono.
In 2004 he did a helicopter performance ahead of the 2005 Venice Biennale. In May of the following year, the Fondazione Morra di Napoli hosted a retrospective, ‘Shozo Shimamoto. Works of the 50s and 90s’, opening with a performance in the historic Piazza Dante. Here, suspended from the arm of a crane and accompanied on the piano by Charlemagne Palestine, Shimamoto threw a ball filled with coloured paint onto a canvas below.
His works are displayed at the Tate Gallery, the Pompidou Centre, and the National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome, to name but a few, as well as in almost all Japanese galleries. He died in Osaka in 2013.
SHOZO SHIMAMOTO. Time Rack
Curated by Achille Bonito Oliva
12thJune 2018 h 6 mp
Via Maqueda 81 | Palermo
13 JUNE > 6 AUGUST 2018
Opening hours: Tuesday to Friday 9.30 am - 6.30 pm
Saturdays and Sundays 10 am – 1 pm and 3.30 pm - 6.30 pm. Closed on Mondays
Tickets: Full € 5 | reduced € 4
Organised by: Fondazione Morra | Fondazione Sant'Elia
with the logistic support of the Associazione Shozo Shimamoto
Site http://www.fondazionesantelia.it | FB page: / Sant'Elia Foundation
Sponsorship | Municipality of Palermo | Metropolitan City of Palermo
Part of the Palermo Italian Capital of Culture 2018 programme
THE PALERMO2018 PROGRAMME on the website www.palermocapitalecultura.it
COMMUNICATION | Palermo Capital of Culture 2018
The New Place Agency
Simonetta Trovato| +39 333 5289457 Gioia Sgarlata | +39 331 4039019