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Gutai Chain: The Collective Spirit of Individualism


This article is a theoretical investigation of the Gutai’s collective enterprise, examining the creative process of Gutai Art Exhibitions from 1955 to 1962 and looking in particular at the Outdoor Exhibitions and Gutai Art on Stage. I will argue that the group’s leader, Yoshihara Jiro, engendered a collective spirit of individualism that at once embraced utopian ideals of collectivism and was suspicious of any enterprise that encouraged a dissolution of self. Marked by this ambivalence, Yoshihara adapted the collective experience to create a community in which creativity became a dialogical enterprise based upon a foundation of subjective autonomy: subjective autonomy, that is, as an ethical concept propounded by postwar authors such as Sakaguchi Ango, who believed that authenticity and individualism were the only defenses against the mass psychology that enabled the militarism of the Second World War.

Despite this emphasis on the individual, I argue that the collective enterprise of the Gutai altered the creative process irrevocably, and that it is impossible to consider the work of any artist separate from the group. In his article “Gutai kusari” (“Gutai Chain”) on the tension between the individual and the collective, the artist Ukita Yôzô wrote, “The works at the Gutai Art Exhibition evolve from a state of mind and concentration exactly like that when aiming at a moving target.” It is precisely this experience of creation in dialogue with a community, aiming at a moving target that cannot be dismissed.

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