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Jun 13 2019

Obituary: Tsuruko Yamazaki (1925–2019)

by Xuan Wei Yap

Gutai artist TSURUKO YAMAZAKI has died, aged 94. Courtesy Take Ninagawa Gallery, Tokyo. 

Tsuruko Yamazaki, an important figure of the Japanese avant-garde Gutai movement known for her innovative experiments with light, has died at the age of 94. Her representative gallery, Tokyo’s Take Ninagawa, announced her passing on June 12.  

Born in 1925 in Ashiya, Hyogo Prefecture, Yamazaki studied under Japanese painter Jiro Yoshihara, who co-founded the Gutai Art Association in 1954. Gutai (meaning “concreteness” or “embodiment”) emphasized the relationships between body and matter through a variety of media, notably large-scale outdoor installations and performances. During her involvement in Gutai, which lasted from its establishment to its disbandment in 1972, Yamazaki produced installations that utilized reflective materials and projected light. Her interest in illumination stemmed from seeing car headlights reflected from scrap metal, shards of glass and other scattered debris on the dimly lit streets at night. One of her best-known works, Tin Cans (1955), involved dyeing food cans used by Allied forces still stationed in postwar Japan and installing the shiny, stacked containers across the exhibition space. Yamazaki also produced abstract paintings that layered rigid geometric patterns and gestural strokes, as well as Pop-inspired canvases from the 1970s.

Yamazaki has been included in international surveys of modern Japanese art, such as “Japon des Avant-Gardes 1910–1970,” at Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris; the traveling exhibition “Japanese Art After 1945: Scream Against the Sky” at the Yokohama Museum of Art, the now-defunct Guggenheim Museum SoHo in New York, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1994–95); and “Gutai: Splendid Playground,” at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

Yamazaki’s work will be on view in “Manifesto: Art x Agency,” opening on June 15 at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC.

Xuan Wei Yap is an editorial intern of ArtAsiaPacific.

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