Walter and McBean Galleries

Curated by John Held, Jr. and Andrew McClintock

This winter the San Francisco Art Institute presents the first West Coast survey exhibition of Gutai (1954-1972), a significant avant-garde artist collective in postwar Japan that was founded by Jiro Yoshihara under a primary directive: “Do something no one’s ever done before.”

Gutai, which translates as “concrete” or “embodiment,” fulfilled this commitment to innovative practices by using traditional media in new situations and producing art through concrete actions: smashing paint-filled bottles; full-body wrestling with mud  and cement; leaping through a series of paper screens; painting with feet. With these efforts, Gutai stood in contrast to the figurative and abstract art of the era and prefigured the performance-orientated art of the 1960s such as Happenings and Fluxus.

Showcasing nearly two dozen paintings from private collections, original video and photographs, mail art from more than 30 countries, and North American artists’ responses to groundbreaking performances, Experimental Exhibition of Modern Art to Challenge the Mid-Winter Burning Sun: Gutai Historical Survey and Contemporary Response creates a dialogue with classic Gutai works while demonstrating the lasting significance and radical energy of this movement. 

In addition to the works on display in the Walter and McBean Galleries, SFAI invites you to a series of exhibition-related events: a lecture, panel discussion, film screening, and more! This exhibition and all its associate events are FREE and open to the public.

Complete Schedule of Events
These events are FREE and open to the public. But space is limited at select events, and advance registration is recommended. Please see details below.

Opening Reception
Friday, February 8
6:00-9:00 pm
Walter and McBean Galleries
Join us for wine and appetizers at the opening reception of Gutai Historical Survey and Contemporary Response. Enjoy live performance in response to classic Gutai works of art. 

Shoichi Hirai

Curator, The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto
Thursday, February 21
7:30 pm
Lecture Hall

Gutai artists opened a new phase in art with their experimental methods. Learn from leading Gutai scholar Dr. Hirai about the  movement's chronology and its significance in art history.

Film Screening 
Play It Again: A Screening of Performance Art Documentation 1954-1972
Tuesday, March 5
7:30 pm
Lecture Hall

Enjoy an evening of film documentation highlighting Bay Area-based performance work from the '50s, '60s, and '70s. View rare footage of performance art, and learn more about the complicated history of performance documentation and the critical possibilities it raises.

Closing Reception & Catalogue Release
Wednesday, March 27
5:30–7:30 pm
Walter and McBean Galleries

Panel Discussion
Wednesday, March 27
7:30 pm
Lecture Hall

Eventbrite - SFAI Gutai Exhibition: Panel Discussion

Celebrate the closing of the exhibition and the release of the exhibition catalogue with drinks and light refreshments. Following the reception, join us for a discussion about the recent trend of reenacting past performances and its curatorial legitimacy.
Led by Tony Labat, SFAI’s Faculty Director of MFA Programs, the panel features Rudolf Frieling, Curator of Media Arts at SFMOMA; Constance Lewallen, Adjunct Curator at Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive; artist and curator TOM MARIONI; and Mayumi Handa, special assistant to Shozo Shimamoto.


Image credit: Jiro Yoshihara, Red Circle on Black, 1965, courtesy private collection

Thank You!
Thank you to the Ashiya City Museum of Art and History and the Museum of Osaka University. SFAI’s exhibitions and public programs—a component of which is the Gutai Historical Survey and Contemporary Response exhibition—are also supported in part by the Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund.