Japanese artist Yasuo Sumi, a former member of the seminal Gutai art group, died of pneumonia on October 12. He was 90 years old.
Born in 1925 in Osaka, Japan, he graduated from Kyoto’s Ritsumeikan University with a degree in economics in 1950. Despite his academic background, he started practicing as an artist and became a member of Gutai in 1955. Founded by painter Jiro Yoshihara a year prior, the postwar avant-garde art group was active until the early 1970s and is best known for their paintings and sculptures that rejected traditional art forms, and for their large-scale multimedia installations, performances and happenings that emphasized the relationship between body and matter. Sumi’s work as a Gutai member included paintings that he created using unconventional objects in place of the brush—such as the abacus, as well as umbrellas and combs. He participated in all of the exhibitions that the Gutai art group organized during its active period.
After the disbandment of Gutai, Sumi moved his base from Osaka to the city of Itami in the neighboring Hyogo prefecture, where he continued to practice his art locally. Yet his dynamic paintings were showcased in exhibitions across the globe, including at the Guggenheim Museum, New York (2013); Museo Cantonale d’Arte, Lugano (2010); Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris (1999); and the 45th Venice Biennale, as part of the collateral exhibition “Passage to the East” (1993).
More recently, he was featured in a solo show at Tokyo’s Whitestone Gallery in 2013, which included, among others, a vibrant painting dominated by powerful red and white swirls, accented with sky-blue lines along the canvas’ borders. This September, a major retrospective of his works took place at the Itami City Museum of Art. Entitled “Enchanting Mess: Sumi Yasuo in the 1950s,” the exhibition included a rare display of Sumi’s early works, his Gutai installations and archival materials and videos that document his creative process as well as performative activities of the art group. The artist’s passing came two weeks before the closing of the exhibition.