First Comprehensive Exhibition in US on the Work of Artists Kazuo ShiragaAnd Sadamasa Motonaga Opens at Dallas Museum of Art on February 8, 2015

Featuring Nearly 60 Works of Art and Historical Materials, Exhibition Examines Artists’ Engagement with Gutai Art Association and Later Careers

Dallas, TX—February 5, 2015—On February 8, the Dallas Museum of Art will present the first US retrospective on the work of influential painters Kazuo Shiraga and Sadamasa Motonaga side-by-side. Between Action and the Unknown: The Art of Kazuo Shiraga and Sadamasa Motonaga will examine the full arcs of the artists’ careers, from their early works to their 18-year engagement with the Gutai Art Association—the leading avant-garde group of postwar Japanese artists—to their later masterworks created in the 1980s, 90s, and early 2000s. Drawing from among the best collections in Japan, the exhibition will include paintings, drawings, photographs, films, small-scale sculpture, Gutai-related ephemera and re-creations of outdoor installations—many of which have never been exhibited in the US.

Organized by the Dallas Museum of Art and the Japan Foundation in Tokyo, the exhibition highlights the experimental and innovative quality of Shiraga’s and Motonaga’s creative production through nearly 60 works of art and historical materials. Espousing Gutai’s vision to rethink inherited artistic and pictorial traditions, the artists developed unusual techniques and incorporated unexpected materials to achieve their own distinct painting styles. For example, Shiraga used his feet to paint, while Motonaga exploited the fluid properties of water and smoke as part of his process.

On view through July 19, 2015, Between Action and the Unknown will provide both an in-depth examination of the artists’ important contributions to Gutai, founded in 1954, and the lesser-known successes of their careers after the association disbanded in 1972. The exhibition is co-curated by Gabriel Ritter, the DMA’s Nancy and Tim Hanley Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art, and Koichi Kawasaki, the former Chief Curator of Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art, and adds a new chapter to the growing scholarship on art in postwar Japan.  

Between Action and the Unknown serves as a new resource for the study of postwar Japanese art, a field that demands fresh scholarly inquiry. The Dallas Museum of Art is pleased to examine the work of these important artists within the broader framework of modern and contemporary art,” said Maxwell L. Anderson, the DMA’s Eugene McDermott Director. “The exhibition provides a glimpse into the tremendous breadth and scope of Shiraga’s and Motonaga’s oeuvres and a new look at the panoply of work created during and after their participation in Gutai.”

“Shiraga’s and Motonaga’s work expands our understanding of the global evolution of modernism, dispelling notions that movements such as abstract expressionism and the participatory and process-driven elements of so much contemporary practice are purely Western inventions,” said Ritter. “While Gutai has been well studied as a collective, Shiraga and Motonaga are only now being fully recognized as influential artists in their own right. The exhibition explores the breadth of their combined oeuvres, shedding light on their substantial careers and distinct characters.”

About Kazuo Shiraga (1924–2008)
After studying Nihon-ga (Japanese-style painting) in the late 1940s, Shiraga Kazuo began making oil paintings with his fingers, and in time, developed a dynamic approach using his feet. During his time as a member of Gutai, Shiraga continually challenged himself to push the boundaries of his physical being, and in doing so, push the limits of painting itself. This can be seen in performances such as Challenging Mud (1955), where the artist used his entire body to wrestle a mound of mud and concrete, or the theatrical Ultramodern Sanbaso (1957), in which the artist performed on stage dressed in a dramatic red costume with long flowing arms, a pointed hat, and mask. While these early performances represent Shiraga’s most radical expression of action as painting, the artist is best known for his large oil-on-canvas paintings done with his feet. He continued the vigorous process of painting with his feet well into his eighties, exploring ideas of chance and performativity through themes related to Buddhism and Japanese folk tales.

About Sadamasa Motonaga (1922–2011)
Motonaga was a self-taught artist who became aware of abstract painting after meeting Yoshihara Jiro, the founder of the Gutai Art Association. His unique approach, using enamel paint, was in part inspired by the traditional Japanese technique of tarashikomi, in which layers of wet paint are allowed to pool irregularly. Motonaga’s work was included in an exhibition of Gutai art that traveled around the U.S. in 1958, and after signing with the Martha Jackson Gallery in 1960, he began developing closer ties with the country. In 1966, Motonaga was invited by the Japan Society to take part in a year-long residency program in New York. While there, he began experimenting with airbrushing techniques resulting in a dramatic change in his style. His amorphous poured canvases took on new clarity as he explored more hard-edged shapes that played with color and contour. After returning to Japan, he began making silkscreen prints and picture books, attaining popularity as one the country’s most prominent contemporary artists. Much of his later work has yet to be addressed by art historians.

Exhibition Organization
Between Action and the Unknown: The Art of Kazuo Shiraga and Sadamasa Motonaga was co-organized by the Dallas Museum of Art and the Japan Foundation in Tokyo, and co-curated by Gabriel Ritter, the DMA’s Nancy and Tim Hanley Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art, and Koichi Kawasaki, the former Chief Curator of Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art.

Exhibition Catalogue
The first scholarly catalogue, in English, to explore the work of both Kazuo Shiraga and Sadamasa Motonaga, accompanies the exhibition. The publication will feature in-depth entries on selected artworks, new translations of the artists’ writings, narrative chronologies for both artists and full-color illustrations of featured works in the exhibition. The catalogue aims to re-evaluate the legacies of abstract expressionism, Art Informel, and Japan’s postwar avant-garde from a fresh perspective and presents timely contributions to the field from emerging scholars from the U.S. and Japan. Distributed by Yale University Press, New Haven and London.

Images (left to right): Kazuo Shiraga, Tenshosei Botsuusen, 1960, oil on canvas, The Rachofsky Collection, © Hisao Shiraga; Sadamasa Motonaga, Work, 1962, oil paint and synthetic resin on canvas, Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art (Yamamura Collection), © Estate of Sadamasa Motonaga

About the Dallas Museum of Art
Established in 1903, the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) is among the 10 largest art museums in the country and is distinguished by its commitment to research, innovation, and public engagement. At the heart of the Museum and its programs is its global collection, which encompasses more than 22,000 works and spans 5,000 years of history, representing a full range of world cultures. Located in the nation’s largest arts district, the Museum welcomes over 650,000 visitors annually and acts as a catalyst for community creativity, engaging people of all ages and backgrounds with a diverse spectrum of programming, from exhibitions and lectures to concerts, literary events, and dramatic and dance presentations. In January 2013, the DMA returned to a free general admission policy and launched DMA Friends, the first free museum membership program in the country, which currently has over 90,000 members. For more information, visit

The Dallas Museum of Art is supported, in part, by the generosity of DMA Partners and donors, the citizens of Dallas through the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, and the Texas Commission on the Arts.