Lot 1007
  • 1007

Sugai Kumi

400,000 - 600,000 HKD
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  • Sugai Kumi
  • Nagare (Flow)
  • oil on canvas
signed and titled in English and dated 1961 on the reverse, framed


Private Collection
Sotheby's, New York, 19 February 1997, lot 156
Acquired by the present owner from the above sale


Japan, Gunma, The Museum of Modern Art; Ehime, The Museum of Art, Through a Collector's Eye: Japanese Art After 1945, 15 September 2001 - 14 January, 2002, cat. no. 12


Sugai Kumi Works, Bijutsu Shuppansha, Tokyo, Japan, 1976, p. 184, no. 19

Catalogue Note

The Language of Dreams
Sugai Kumi

Nagare (Flow) (Lot 1007) hails from Sugaï Kumi's quietly enrapturing series of abstract typography paintings in the early 1960s. After moving to Paris in 1952, Sugaï became acquainted with the legacy of Surrealism and Abstract Impressionism, and began adapting traditional Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock forms and techniques with a unique painterly sensibility. In the current lot, the kanji character "流" (flow) is masterfully reconfigured into a nonsensical character of Sugaï's own formal invention: by emptying the signifier of its linguistic meaning, Sugaï orchestrates an entirely innovative encounter between Western figurative abstraction and Asian calligraphy.

Employing a subtle, quietly radiant palette, Sugaï's virtuosic use of color imbues warmth and humanity into his abstract calligraphic forms. The reassembled character流 in the current lot features a gentle yet striking blue, whose soft luminosity recalls both sky and sea and the flowing, circuitous unity of nature. The reassembled typographic form itself, on the other hand, evokes a mesmerizing dream-like purity: at once foreign and familiar, the anonymous character seems to murmur the mysterious language of tribal symbols or ancient dialects, evoking an enchanting, exotic lyricism.

Sugaï's outlines would later become more hard-edged and geometric; the current lot, however, features fluid, hazy brushstrokes that reference Surrealist illusory effects as well as the rough-edged aesthetic of Informel. In contrast to Informel artists, however, Sugaï's brushwork is measured and controlled, anchored firmly in the orderly pictographic origins of kanji. Such a humble, grounded aesthetic eschews the volatile surges of energy favored by his contemporaries, espousing instead the modest dispositions of traditional woodblock printmakers and their fascination with banal beauty and everyday symbols and signs.

Sugaï's career took off almost immediately after his arrival in Paris. After exhibiting in various one-man shows in Paris and Brussels, Sugaï held a defining midcareer retrospective at the Städtisches Museum, West Germany in 1960 and moved on to participate in important international biennales. Winning the Best Foreign Artist Prize at the São Paulo Biennial in 1965, Sugaï firmly established his international reputation with his distinctive aesthetic; thereafter his works were exhibited at and collected by important institutions around the world. The paintings Kabuki (1958) and Shiro (1957), of the same period as the current lot and executed in the same style, are housed at the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim respectively.