Please Draw Freely: Gutai Individualism in the Shadow of Totalitarianism: Lecture Review

Norwich Cathedral and Hostry

Image of Norwich Cathedral and Hostry

The “Third Thursday Lectures” are public lectures hosted by the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures (SISJAC) in Norwich. Usually held in the Hostry of Norwich Cathedral, the lectures have now moved online and have become available to a global audience. A wide range of topics are presented by the lectures which provide the public with an extraordinary opportunity to engage with academic expertise and gain interesting insights into aspects of Japanese culture. SISJAC’s lecture on Thursday 15th October, given by Professor Ming Tiampo of Carlton University, was was no exception.

Professor Tiampo has a captivating and enthusiastic style of public speaking which makes it easy for those in her audience to engage with her topic. Her lecture titled Please Draw Freely: Gutai Individualism in the Shadow of Totalitarianism provided a fascinating introduction to the Gutai group, who pushed the boundaries of what can be considered art with their novel ideas and multi-faceted, often performance-based artworks. 

An especially interesting part of the lecture was Professor Tiampo’s explanation about the use of language in art history to define movements. She explained how in 2013 when she co-curated the Gutai: Splendid Playground exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, they decided to frame it from the Gutai Perspective – centring around the establishment of the Gutai Pinacotheca rather than their “discovery” by French critic Michel Tapié. They used new vocabulary to discuss Gutai, for example “Play” rather than “Relational Aesthetics” and “Concept” rather than “Conceptual Art”, to avoid connotations rooted in Western Art History. This allowed Gutai to be viewed as its own entity, rather than a version of other movements. Professor Tiampo’s lecture provided not only a great overview for the newcomer to Gutai, but it also argued that the importance of Gutai to modernism is greatly underestimated.

Link to SISJAC event:

6 Replies to “Please Draw Freely: Gutai Individualism in the Shadow of Totalitarianism: Lecture Review

  1. Thank you for the review! Yes, the curatorial choices around language are usually very complicated and contested. Do you think this particular word choice contributed to understanding? Also, were there some specific works that you remembered/found interesting?
    all the best, Eugenia

    1. Hi Eugenia,
      I think the word choice would only have effected the understanding of those who had a grasp of Western Art History and the terminology associated with it. I found Tsuruko Yamazaki’s Red Cube very interesting, especially the idea that those who enter the art work become part of the art work for those viewing from the other side.
      All the best,

  2. Hi Zoe, Thank you for your post. I would agree; I am no fan of contemporary arts but fully enjoyed Prof Tiampo’s talk! I even would like to suggest an exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre some day! We had no idea that Japanese people would create such untraditional form of art. Would you think they had been influenced by any other artists?

    1. Hi Natsue,
      It was a good lecture, wasn’t it? I believe that Prof Tiampo was arguing that this type of performance art was not influenced by the West but instead was just as early and an influencing force in its own right. The only earlier examples of performance art I can think of are Bauhaus, however, if this had any influence I don’t know.

  3. Hi Zoe- what were your thoughts on the notions of ‘painting’ and ‘paintbrush’ that Dr Tiampo brought up? I thought it was a great talk too- it opened up my thinking a lot and I’m still processing a lot of what Dr Tiampo talked about.

    1. Hi Harry,
      I did think it was an interesting choice to refer to the artworks as ‘paintings’ and ‘paintbrush’ because, to me, those words have specific connotations (like materials used) which the majority of the examples in the lecture did not fit.

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