Lot 126
  • 126

Saburo Murakami

70,000 - 100,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Saburo Murakami
  • Untitled
  • signed and dated 1959 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas


Private Collection, Japan
Mainichi Art Auction, Tokyo, 29 November 2014, Lot 67
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Catalogue Note

In an explosive conjunction of red, blue, green, and ochre pigment, Saburo Murakami’s Untitled is a masterful display of the artist’s gestural paintings, merging abstract aesthetics with the immediacy of the performative act of painting. As a leading member of the Japanese avant-garde movement Gutai, Saburo Murakami stood at the very forefront of the radical Japanese post-war group that redefined contemporary painting by renouncing traditional techniques of painting in favour of new modes of expression.

Where Kazuo Shiraga made paintings with his bare feet and hands and Shozo Shimamoto threw bottles of paint on the canvas, Saburo Murakami hurled himself through layers of paper in his seminal performance kami-yaburi (Passing Through) presented at the Second Gutai Art Exhibition in 1956, where he broke through multiple sheets of paper mounted on a series of frames. Indeed, the exuberant dynamic inherent to the present work is palpable through the drips of paint and the sense of movement that is further accentuated by the strong colour contrasts. Created in 1959 at the very height of Gutai’s activities, the present work testifies to the electric and radical sense of innovation prevalent at the time in Japan among this small, selective group of artists. Similar to the action paintings of Jackson Pollock, which equally demanded the artist’s full engagement with his body, Untitled is suffused with movement created through the bodily act of painting. Echoing Gutai’s manifesto to merge human qualities with materials properties, the present work is an early example of Murakami’s fusion of performance and painting. Uninhibited and free-spirited in its appearance, Untitled reverberates with Murakami’s ground-breaking performance in that both performance and painting emphasise the passing of time by retaining the traces of bodily actions and dynamic changes.

Gutai’s emphasis on the act of painting and the incorporation of the human body as a gestural technique in itself ushered in a new era in painting and art in general. Rather than perceiving the finished painting as the work of art, Gutai regarded the creation process and the techniques used to form a work as a Gesamtkunstwerk. Deeply ingrained in this philosophy is the attempt to abolish the sanctity of the surface and instead to celebrate the process of destruction as an aesthetic ground zero from which new cultural norms can be formulated. Echoing Gutai’s spirit of creative destruction, Murakami’s paintings herald a new idiom of abstraction that is strongly embedded in the artist’s performance practice, of which the present work is an exquisite example.