Lot 166
  • 166

Kazuo Shiraga

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 USD
1,095,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Kazuo Shiraga
  • Work BB48
  • signed and dated 1962
  • oil on canvas


Galerie Couvrat-Desvergnes, Paris 
Galerie Sander, Darmstadt
Galerie Georg Nothelfer, Berlin (acquired in 1992)
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2007


Berlin, Galerie Georg Nothelfer, Kazuo Shiraga, Decemeber 1992, p. 48, illustrated in color
Paris, Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Gutai, May - June 1999


Exh. Cat., Toyoshina, Azumino Municipal Museum of Modern Art (and traveling), Kazuo Shiraga: Painting Born Out of Fighting, 2009, no. 139, p. 136, illustrated in color

Catalogue Note

"I want to paint as though rushing around on a battlefield, exerting myself to collapse from exhaustion."

Kazuo Shiraga 

This masterwork heaves and writhes with tactility and vivacious commotion. Claw-like strokes of red, blue and green converge at electrifying points of intersection, which are heightened by masterful finishing impasto swabs of deep black. Untitled BB48 coincides with Kazuo Shiraga’s critical early period of explosive dynamism with the artist’s historic inaugural solo exhibition outside Japan. At Galerie Stadler in Paris in 1962, the young Gutai master’s legendary feet-generated strokes thrash out a thrilling path of primal expression via impassioned collisions of body and paint: like no other artist before him, Shiraga’s performative abstractions are vehemently inspirited with movement.

Shiraga’s ascension to global fame commenced with modest beginnings. Originally trained in nihonga, traditional Japanese painting, the artist quickly ventured into oil, creating markings or scratchings with his own fingers. With these initial methods, Shiraga’s style can be seen as a gradual crescendo in the exercise of rejecting the brush—a development that takes its final form in his celebrated foot paintings. In the early 1950s the artist shunned the traditional artistic stance completely. Shiraga swung himself lithely across horizontally placed canvases, using his feet and body to cast, heave, kick and swirl thick slabs and layers of paint—all from a rope dangling from the ceiling. Such aggressively uninhibited actions allowed the artist to truly immerse himself within his canvases as opposed to pouring or painting from above: he merged body and material in a meteoric cathartic synthesis. By doing so, Shiraga set himself apart from the mere gesturality of Western Abstract Expressionism and forged an epochal revolutionary oeuvre in the contemporary art canon.

The present work, created in 1962, coincides with Shiraga’s rise to the international stage. Following French critic Michel Tapié and painter Georges Mathieu’s visit to Osaka in 1957, the Galerie Stadler in Paris (closely associated with Tapié) displayed Shiraga’s paintings within a larger group in 1959. In 1962, the Galerie Stadler hosted the artist’s first solo exhibition outside Japan. In 1963 Shiraga participated in the Exposition d’art modern at the Grand Palais, Paris, and in 1965 onwards in historic museum exhibitions such as Nul at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1965) and New Japanese Painting and Sculpture at the San Francisco Museum of Art (1965) and the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1967). In 1966 Allan Kaprow’s landmark anthology Assemblages, Environments & Happenings established Gutai as a forerunner of happening-type performances, attributing renewed critical attention and legendary status to Shiraga’s seminal 1955 Challenging Mud performance in which the artist engaged in a violent, grotesque and almost sensual struggle with the earth.

Such violence, embodied in the notion of impassioned struggle, is crucial to a proper understanding of Shiraga’s oeuvre. Yves Klein also utilized the body as vehicle by which to paint in his Anthropometries half a decade later, but Shiraga’s art utilized his irreducible corporeality to battle with and awaken the raw vitality of matter itself. Such an unprecedented paradigm epitomized the mission of the post-war Gutai movement which, literally uniting ‘instrument’ (gu) with ‘body’ (tai), rose like a phoenix from the scarred landscape of post-Hiroshima Japan to advocate a reinvigorating philosophy of ‘concreteness’ in their war-torn country.