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Tsuruko Yamazaki with her work at the exhibition “International Art of a New Era: Informel and Gutai” at the Takashimaya Department Store in Namba, Osaka, 1958.
Tsuruko Yamazaki with her work at the exhibition “International Art of a New Era: Informel and Gutai” at the Takashimaya Department Store in Namba, Osaka, 1958.

Tsuruko Yamazaki (1925–2019)

Tsuruko Yamazaki—a founding member of the Japanese avant-garde collective the Gutai Art Association, which was formed by innovative multidisciplinary and performance artists in 1954—has died. Take Ninagawa gallery in Japan confirmed the news. Active in the group until its disbanding in 1972, Yamazaki participated in all of Gutai’s major exhibitions, including the Outdoor Gutai Art Exhibition at Ashiya Park in 1956; the sixth Gutai Art Exhibition at Martha Jackson Gallery in New York in 1958; and the international group show “Nul 1965” at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

Born in 1925 in Ashiya, Hyogo, Japan, Yamazaki graduated from the University of the Sacred Heart, Obayashi, in Nishinomiya, Japan, in 1948. Her first solo show was staged at the Gutai Pinacotheca, the collective’s museum, which displayed works by Gutai and international artists and acted as a hub for their activities, in 1963. Known for challenging traditional media, Yamazaki worked with reflective materials and metals such as tin cans and panels, which she treated with aniline dyes—the eventual oxidization of the compounds would produce brilliant shades of magenta as well as earth tones. She also experimented with producing projected light installations and painting on mirrors before transitioning to canvas, creating bold geometric patterns and exploring Pop imagery. Her later works were vivid abstractions that she made by pouring dyes onto various surfaces.

“Tsuruko Yamazaki endorsed a distinctly nonhumanist view of agency by emphasizing the interface between material properties themselves,” wrote Joan Kee, an associate professor in the department of art history at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in the February 2013 issue of Artforum. “Although her work’s range and vibrancy of colors are what most immediately catch the viewer’s attention, to describe Yamazaki as a colorist would be to diminish the urgency with which she has sought to denature the bond between materials and their expected uses, particularly in her experiments with tin, vinyl, acrylic, and mirrors.”

Despite being the only woman artist who remained with the Gutai group from its beginning to its dissolution, Yamazaki did not receive international recognition until late in her career. She had her first European solo show, “Beyond Gutai: 1957–2009,” at the Galerie Almine Rech in Paris in 2010. Yamazaki’s work has been featured in major surveys of Japanese modern and contemporary art such as “Japon des Avant-Gardes 1910–1970” at the Centre Pompidou, Paris (1986); “Japanese Art after 1945: Scream Against the Sky” at the Yokohama Museum of Art, Japan, the Guggenheim SoHo, New York, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1994–95); and “Gutai: Splendid Playground” at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2013). She also participated in the Forty-Fifth and Fifty-Third Venice Biennales in 1993 and 2009, respectively.