Electrifying Art: Atsuko Tanaka, 1954–1968
Born in Osaka in 1932, Atsuko Tanaka is a pioneering figure in the postwar Japanese art scene and an early member of the Gutai group of avant-garde artists. Rejecting the realistic figuration promoted by the militarist wartime government, Tanaka and her fellow Gutai artists wholeheartedly embraced the notion of “newness.” Reinventing the rules of art, they staged exhibitions outside traditional spaces and created proto-Happening performance pieces.
The first solo museum exhibition of a Gutai artist in North America, Electrifying Art presents a selection of Tanaka’s early paintings and drawings. Also featured is her best known work, Electric Dress of 1956, a garment composed of multi-colored flashing light bulbs which she wore onstage, as well as an enormous red satin dress, with outstretched sleeves over thirty feet wide, that formed the background to another performance a year later. A prescient sound installation from 1955, Work(Bell), delineates architectural boundaries through a progression of ringing bells triggered by viewers.
Many of Tanaka’s drawings relate to her innovative performances and installations. A series of drawings completed after Electric Dress are visual mediations on that work’s tangle of colored lights and electric cables. Her subsequent paintings all employ what has become her signature vocabulary of circles and lines, executed in the bright colors and enamel paints of commercial signage. In her riveting works, Tanaka explores issues that came to dominate Western art in the 1960s: the expressive limits of the body, the use of technology, and the notion of interactivity. Along with her Gutai companions, she radically extended not only the possibilities for painting, but the very definition of art itself.