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Press Release

NEW YORK—The Paula Cooper Gallery is pleased to present a one-person exhibition of works by Japanese artist Atsuko Tanaka. The exhibition will include a selection of paintings and works on paper from Tanaka’s entire career, with the greater part of the show focusing on works from 1980 through 2002. Along with a one-person show at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery, this exhibition marks the first time Tanaka’s work will be shown in New York since 1965.

Atsuko Tanaka is one of Japan’s most prominent avant-garde artists. She was born in Osaka in 1932 and began her artistic career in the 1950s with paintings and collages. Drawn to avant-garde art, she soon joined one of the most important art movements in postwar Japan, the Gutai Bijutsu Kyokai (Concrete Art Association) founded by Jiro Yoshihara in 1954. The Gutai group brought together different artists who had experienced the destruction wrought by World War II and whose common goal was to break with tradition and create entirely new modes of expression. Gutai artists emphasized materiality in art-making, as a way of silencing the artist’s “imperious” voice and enabling materials to speak freely. Their raw, explosive energy, their use of unconventional materials and their preference for staged performances foreshadowed many developments in performance art, earthworks, conceptual art and minimalism in Europe and North America.

Tanaka’s Electric Dress (1956), which consisted entirely of electric wires and flashing colored light bulbs, and which the artist wore during performances, is one of the most representative works of the Gutai movement. Often inspired by objects taken from everyday life, such as calendars, door bells and light bulbs, Tanaka found ways of connecting developments in technology with a new understanding of the body, space and time. She soon began to make abstract paintings consisting of circles of vibrant color connected by dripped and drawn lines, which suggested electronic circuitry. These vivid paintings made in enamel paint retained a record of her movements as she dripped and traced the paint across the canvas.

Tanaka’s work since the 1980s, which is the focus of this exhibition, builds upon and expands on her previous work. The paintings continue to depict circular patches of color connected by sinuous lines, now often on a large scale (reaching more than 15ft in length in some cases). The composition ranges from more or less grid-like arrangements of identical-size circles to a chaotic accumulation of spheres of different sizes inextricably linked together. With their bright tones and haphazard lines, the paintings pulsate with energy, while the drawings, made in pencil, gouache or ink, demonstrate what the French critic Germain Viatte has called Tanaka’s “obsession with connectedness."

Tanaka’s work has not been extensively exhibited in the West. In the 1980s, her work was shown alongside other Gutai artists in exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo (1981), the Städtisches Kunstmuseum, Düsseldorf (1983), the Museum of Contemporary Art in Madrid (1985), and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris (1986). In 1993, a retrospective sample of Gutai works was exhibited at the 45th Venice Biennial. Tanaka’s first one-person retrospective in Europe was organized by the Im Taxispalais Gallery in Innsbruck, Austria, in 2002. Electrifying Art: Atsuko Tanaka, 1954-1968, the first one-person show of a Gutai artist in North America, will be presented, concurrently with this exhibition, at the New York University’s Grey Art Gallery, from September 14 through December 11, 2004.

The Paula Cooper Gallery would like to thank Midori Nishizawa for her assistance in preparing this exhibition

For more information, please contact the gallery: (212) 255-1105 or