I am thrilled to have been given this opportunity to present the work of Shigeki Kitani in New York for the very first time. The 33 pieces gathered here cover the full range of this extraordinary art- ist’s early career and in particular his fifteen years of involvement with the Gutai movement, which played such a central role in the development of the postwar Japanese avant-garde. Soon after his graduation in 1952 from a conservative art-college training, Kitani came under the spell of Jirō Yoshi- hara, the charismatic, radical co-founder of the Gutai Art Association. Still only 25 years old, Kitani would not become an official member of Gutai until 1965 but his own artistic grouping at the time, the Osaka Circle of the Free Art Association, had
a similar ideology: opposition to conservatism and subservience and a denial of the “deceptions and errors” of existing artistic organizations.
1956 marked an important stage in Kitani’s artistic and intellectual development. It was in that year that he first collaborated with full members of Gutai, posing with Saburō Murakami’s empty pic- ture frame (see page 6) and contributing his own minimalist intervention in the form of 100 plain ceramic plates arranged in a square. Also in 1956, Kutani began to keep a record of his major works, starting with two important paintings included in the present selection: Old, Old Far Eastern Song, My Song (cat. no. 3) and an untitled Work (cat. no. 4). The rugged materiality and simplicity of these compositions clearly reflect the ideals of the Gutai Manifesto, published by Yoshihara in December
of that year, yet like many of his works they are in- flected with a wistful lyricism which reminds us that Kitani was also a leading modernist poet.
A comparison of the groups of works in this selec- tion executed in 1961 (cat. nos. 14 –18) and 1963 (cat. nos. 21– 27) with Gutai shows held in the same
years vividly demonstrates Kitani’s heroic success in forging an accomplished style of highly varied abstraction that captured the spirit of the age while retaining a distinctive individuality. It is little wonder, then, that Yoshihara was eager to recruit him into the ranks of Gutai in a bid to breathe new life into the group. Kitani responded by creating the Torso series, a group of works combining paint- ing and sculpture with a daring originality that achieved immediate international recognition. I am particularly delighted that two of them, Torso 1 and Torso 12, are included in the current exhibition (cat. nos. 29, 31).
I should like to record my gratitude to a number of dedicated individuals whose wholehearted cooperation has been essential to the realization of this project. Masamitsu Saitō made the key in- troduction to the artist’s son Tenpei, who not only contributed a memoir of his father to this publica- tion but also generously loaned us his extensive archive of newspaper articles, photographs, exhibition catalogues, leaflets, and other ephem- era. Joe Earle used these precious materials to compile an exhaustive listing, the first in any lan- guage, of the principal events in Shigeki Kitani’s creative life; he also prepared most of the text.
As ever, I am delighted to acknowledge the high professional standards of our Frankfurt designer Valentin Beinroth. Once again I offer thanks to my wife Cornelia, who has given unstinting support and encouragement at the same time as pursuing a successful international career as an artist in her own right.
New York, April 2015