Jiro Takamatsu

Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art

As a member of the important avant-garde performance group Hi Red Center in the early 1960s, Jiro Takamatsu (1936–1998) became known for humorous interventionist actions. After Hi Red Center disbanded in 1965, Takamatsu continued to work on expanding the field of production and perception—painting shadows, for example, on the white surface of a canvas, tracing a walk in the city with a piece of string, or making sculpture with such everyday materials as bottles, strings, bricks, nets, and logs. Although Takamatsu’s experiments can be seen in parallel with those of Supports/Surfaces and Arte Povera, the consistency of his conceptual practice has been somewhat eclipsed in recent years. The acquisition of some four thousand of his drawings by the Daiwa Press Collection in 2008, however, has filled in the gaps among his diverse formal achievements and made it easier to see his work as a continual process. This show’s success owes much to the insightful selection from the Daiwa collection (along with that of the Hiroshima MOCA itself), as well as to the sensitive installation made by the museum’s chief curator, Yukie Kamiya, who showed the artist’s fairly obscure series of works on paper together with his better-known paintings and sculpture—174 works in all. Thus the “Shadow” paintings, 1964–98, were displayed on the first floor along with several other early pieces to clarify the structural affinities among apparently disparate works. Each piece has been invaded by an external element, such as a shadow or an action causing a wrinkle on a sheet of fabric, disrupting the pristine beauty of white canvas or cloth and lending complexity to a pictorial space or a sculptural body.

Takamatsu has said, “It was important to use the energy issued by the things in the process of destructuring their form,” calling his systematic deconstruction of painting or sculpture “spiritual quantum theory.” The installation in the museum’s underground gallery embodied this worldview. Oneness of Paper, 1971–72, was made by tearing a sheet of paper into small fragments and putting these back together in the original form, creating divisions of space with seams and overlapping edges. Shown together with Cracking of Everything, 1972, two boxes containing colorful plastic and mineral fragments, Oneness of Paper indicates Takamatsu’s interest in the state of sedimentation, in which fragments dissociated from an original structure retain their physical integrity but are freely combined with other materials to form a new structure. “Eraser,” 1970, presents sheets of paper bearing the complex patterns of smear left on the paper’s surface by the act of erasing drawn lines. “Tape,” 1971–75, is a series in which the artist ripped sheets of colored paper in two, mending them in the middle with tape.

The exhibition presented a vision of art as a formal recapitulation of natural and artificial processes in flux. Takamatsu’s use of expendable materials and simple, disruptive acts to redefine painting or sculpture is clearly relevant to such young artists as Ryoko Aoki, Zon Ito, and Koki Tanaka. The experimental spirit of the Japanese postwar avant-garde, of which Takamatsu was one of the great exponents, remains an inspiration. This new display of his work indicates the continuous search for an imaginative transformation of everyday reality in the apparently distinct practices of Japanese art in the 1960s and today.

Midori Matsui