Lot 1055
  • 1055

Tanaka Atsuko

1,500,000 - 2,500,000 HKD
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  • Tanaka Atsuko
  • 93E
  • synthetic polymer paint on canvas
signed and titled in English and dated 1993.8 on the reverse, framed


The Estate of Tanaka Atsuko
Private Asian Collection
Acquired by the present owner from the above


Monaco, Sem-Art Gallery, GUTAI•KUSAMA, 10 January - 1 March, 2013


This work is generally in good condition. Upon very close examination, there appears to be very gentle paint separation throughout the piece, which does not affect the overall visual aesthetic of the work. The most obvious of these craquelures are located in three areas: the top right corner of the work, the central left quadrant, and the lower right quadrant, each measuring approx. 20 cm. Upon very close examination, there is also a small cluster of hairline craquelures in the bottom right area. There are two horizontal strips in the top area where it would appear that the paint has been flattened, due to the drying method done by the artist herself. Having examined the work under ultraviolet light, there appears to be no evidence of restoration.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Urban Glow
Tanaka Atsuko 

In 1956 Tanaka Atsuko took centre stage at the 2nd Gutai Art Exhibition, sporting a staggering dress made up of more than two hundred light bulbs and light tubes. The Electric Dress (fig. 1), which would become one of the artist’s most lasting and iconic art pieces, remains an emblematic point of departure for the discussion of her oeuvre, and serves as one of the main sources of inspiration for the present sale’s 93E. Painted in the nineties, 93E is the culmination of many years of Tanaka’s involvement with Gutai, as well as her own mature artistic developments beyond the famous art group’s own interests.

Tanaka is indisputably the most famous female artist of all of Gutai’s members. Having joined the Gutai group in 1955 after it had merged with the Zero-kai, Tanaka was an immediate star amongst her peers. To have been a female artist in a mostly-male art group, let alone art sphere, did not hinder her excellence in the least. Michel Tapié, one of the twentieth century’s most important Western art critics, who was instrumental in the Gutai group’s fame in Europe, explicitly makes mention of Tanaka after a trip he makes to Japan in 1957. In a short essay, “A Mental Reckoning of My First Trip to Japan”, Tapié writes, “I have a deep respect for the whole group [Gutai] as a group, but I would like to name four artists who should appear alongside the most established international figures: Shiraga Kazuo, Shimamoto Shozo, Yoshihara Jiro, and Tanaka Atsuko.”1 Living up to this weighty acknowledgement, Tanaka certainly produced art that was of an impeccable standard, but most importantly, of unrivalled innovation. Up to the present day, the artist’s works have been exhibited at world-class institutions, with recent shows at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, and the 53rd Venice Biennale. Even after her death in 2005, the artist’s works continue to fascinate her audiences, with previous installations recreated, and older works extensively exhibited. 

It is easy to detect Tapié’s sentiments for Tanaka’s work in 93E (Lot 1055). Featuring a complex network of neon circles with a web of intertwined, curving lines, the work emits a palpable sense of energy and movement. The large canvas was first placed on the ground, with the bold circles first created, and the lines later added. Governed by spontaneity and instinct, the work’s creative aspect mirrors a human’s cerebral movements, akin perhaps to brain synapses and the central nervous system. The production of these works has prompted extensive discussion of psychology, and against an increasingly technological world, comparisons to computer circuits or even close clusters of cells have been drawn. Considering also that it was painted by an imminent post-war artist, it is also not difficult to identify in the piece a strong resemblance to a city’s pulsing lights. In spite of its creation in the nineties, the work is still a pertinent representation of contemporary society. 

The interconnected circles and lines in 93E are also a potent culmination of Tanaka’s previous works, such as Work (Bell), an installation piece exhibited at the 1st Gutai Art Exhibition in 1955, as well as the 1956 Electric Dress. In both cases, the artist sought to conflate human qualities with technological advancement. Work (Bell) was an installation that featured a circuit of ringing bells activated by its viewer, producing a chain ringing effect that would chime along the length of the exhibition room, diminishing in volume, before increasing on its way back. As with Electric Dress that became a focal point of the next Gutai Art Exhibition, both works explore the interrelatedness between action and reaction, and method or medium and executer. Against a broader backdrop of post-war Japan, which had newly re-emerged from ruin, technology held the symbolic importance of innovation and regeneration for the country, representing Japan’s strong desire to move forward and recreate.

When one considers that both Work (Bell) and Electric Dress were created by Tanaka in a post-war climate of renewal and birth, one may certainly be able to consider that 93E showcases a similar sense of hope and energy. With its strong display of vibrant colours, undulating lines, and perfect circles, 93E is a potent and apt display of the triumphs of life. 

Above all, Tanaka has in the past also equated the act of painting with the ringings of a bell—her beautiful works featuring circles and bursts of lines were created by shaking, creating ‘a space with vibrations.’ 2 93E is a faithful replica of this same energy, as evidenced in the drippings and swirls across the canvas, they emit an effervescent glow, coming together to create a pulsating and alluring canvas.

In 93E, Tanaka powerfully displays the Gutai group’s singular motif of extending a relationship between materiality and humanity, of bridging the gap between object and spirit. By capturing the action of her mind, her memory, her instincts—much in the same way as Work (Bell) and Electric Dress seek to encapsulate sound and electricity respectively—93E is a capsule of the artist’s energy and is a remnant of the artist herself. With her singular fixation on the dynamics between human and object, Tanaka Atsuko has created a body of work that is a celebration of time itself:  with her art being more than simply art, but rather, an emblem of her very being.

1 Michel Tapié, “A Mental Reckoning of My First Trip to Japan”, 1957

2 Ikon Gallery, Atsuko Tanaka: The Art of Connecting, Birmingham, 2011, p.12