Lot 1081
  • 1081

TANAKA ATSUKO | Composition of Three Balls

4,000,000 - 6,000,000 HKD
5,160,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • Atsuko Tanaka
  • Composition of Three Balls
  • synthetic polymer paint on canvas
signed in English and dated 1964 on the reverse


Kita Modern Art Museum, Japan 
Private Collection
Hauser & Wirth
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Japan, Ashiya, Ashiya City Hall, 18th Ashiya Exhibition, 1965
Japan, Osaka, Gutai Pinacotheca, 15th Gutai Art Exhibition, 1 – 20 July 1965
Japan, Tokyo, Seibu Department Store, Contemporary Art Gallery, Points and Lines in Sprial, Tanaka Atsuko 1960, 19 April – 15 May 1985
Japan, Nara, Kita Modern Art Museum, Atsuko Tanaka Exhibition, 27 February – 15 April 1990


Atsuko Tanaka: Search for an Unknown Aesthetic, 1954-2000, Ashiya City Museum of Art and History, Ashiya City, Japan, 2001, p. 119, cat. no. 46, illustrated in colour
Atsuko Tanaka: Catalogue Raisonné 2015, Galleria Col, Osaka, Japan, 2015, p. 105

Catalogue Note

[Tanaka’s paintings] deeply affects the viewer’s spirit through the implication that the boundary of ‘self’ that we feel to be fixed can actually be changed, with the potential of structuring a new relationship to the world.

Kato Mizuho

At the 2nd Gutai Art Exhibition in Tokyo in 1956, five years before American Minimalist Dan Flavin created his first fluorescent sculpture, avant-garde seamstress turned artist Tanaka Atsuko stunned audiences by appearing on stage in a high-voltage, coruscatingly resplendent Electric Dress. Composed of a great mass of wires connecting two hundred bulbs and tubes that blinked and flashed in dazzling neon colors, the elaborate dress-contraption heaved with intense heat and energy, imprinting a blazing pattern of circles on audience’s retinas. The iconic performance immortalized itself in art history, firmly establishing Tanaka’s reputation among the greatest artists of her generation and earning her a laudatory mention in renowned French critic Michel Tapié’s landmark piece “A Mental Reckoning of My First Trip to Japan” in 1957: “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” (Michel Tapié, “A Mental Reckoning of My First Trip to Japan”, 1957).

The pivotal performance catalysed Tanaka’s post-1957 vocabulary of omnipresent circles and lines on canvas: a striking aesthetic exemplified by Composition with Three Balls. Hailing from Tanaka’s glorious 1960s era of escalating international acclaim, during which her works were purchased by the likes of distinguished Western collectors such as Anthony Denney and Roland A. Gibson as well as American painter Sam Francis, the current lot is outstanding for its arresting range of brilliant color, layered three-dimensionality and compelling immediacy: testament to Tanaka’s use of quick-drying synthetic enamel paint. Works of such commanding presence from Tanaka’s early 1960s circle paintings are extremely rare to come by in the market, with similar paintings from this early decade currently belonging to eminent museum collections such as that of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

In 1968, a few years after the current lot was created, yet another iconic milestone performance by Tanaka was documented in the film Round on Sand directed by Fukuzawa Hiroshi. In an elaborate improvised dance along the length of a beach, Tanaka engraved a vast array of interlocking circles and lines in the sand. Viewed from above, the large drawing in nature evokes sublime traces of movement that swirl and loop towards infinity, evoking the cosmic mystery of the ancient Nasca lines of Peru. The circular bodily motions employed by Tanaka in the performance echoes Stage Clothes (1956), an early Gutai performance in which Tanaka unravelled layer upon layer of connected trains of fabric from her body in a twirling spiral movement. In both Round on Sand and Stage Clothes, as well as in Electric Dress, Tanaka was “drawing” or “painting” with her entire body, inserting her corporeal being into the very axis of the production of shape, line and color.

Such a revolutionary method gave birth to the notion that abstract painting could be indexical to the figure (Vivian Ziherl, “Atsuko Tanaka: The Art of Connecting”, LEAP 15, June 2012), a radical concept that provided a highly conceptual challenge to the prevalent gestural automatism of her generation in Informel and Abstract Expressionism in both the East and the West (Ming Tiampo, “Electrifying Painting”, in Electrifying Art: Atsuko Tanaka, 1954-1968, Hemlock Printers, Vancouver, 2004, pg. 64). At the same time, by uniting art and technology, Tanaka responded theoretically and aesthetically to the brisk economic expansion and exhilarating technological development experienced by Japan’s rapidly industrializing post-Hiroshima urban life. With its jostling, pulsating circles and fluidly twisting lines, Composition with Three Balls embodies post-war Japan’s throbbing heartbeat and flashing neon aesthetic, constituting a potent symphony celebrating the all-encompassing sublimity of life, resilience, contemporaneity and interconnectivity.