Thematic Program for 2015-2017
Our thematic program for 2015-2017 was a response to Shozo Shimamoto’s Holes.
In the late 1940s, Shozo Shimamoto 嶋本 昭三 (1928-2013) began a series of works entitled Holes (穴 Ana) . The earliest of these was made in the artist’s Nishinomiya City studio out of several sheets of newspaper, topped with a sheet of brown cartridge paper, and pasted together with flour and water. Shimamoto then painted the surface white with hints of pale blue and pierced the surface irregularly to reveal not only the different layers of the painting surface, but the wooden backboard of the painting’s infrastructure. In a letter to the Tate, Shimamoto claimed that he started to paint on glued newspaper during this period because he could not afford to purchase canvas. The works were first exhibited at Shimamoto’s solo show at Sogo Department Store, Shinsaibashi branch, in Osaka in 1954. In a 1957 article for the Gutaimagazine, he advocated the use of ‘utensils’ in the making of art, arguing that paintbrushes had been invented to ‘castrate’ paint. (‘The Execution of Paintbrushes’, in Gutai, no.7, 1957, quoted in Action et émotion, p.119.)
Shimamoto would become the secretary of Gutai 具体, The artists associated with Gutai claimed no stylistic uniformity, but all shared an affinity for the materials and process of art-making rather than the finished object. Holes is an example of the ways that Shimamoto and other Gutai artists deployed materials in a way that blurred the distinction between creative and destructive action. A later work by Shimamoto further investigated the violent manipulation of materials through the use of a cannon that shot glass bottles full of paint at a large sheet of canvas suspended from a tree during a 1956 Gutai exhibition on the banks of the Ashiya River.
The art historian Jean Clay described Gutai as “the first…to bring about the passage from an object-based art to a performance and event-based art on a large scale” but whose contributions were occluded by an “Atlantic geocentricism” (Jean Clay, “Hommage à Gutai,” Robha 5/6 (1971), p. 54, quoted in Ming Tiampo, Decentering Modernism, p. 94). Although Holes has significant affinities with the work of European artists like Lucio Fontana, the work can also be understood within both the context of the turbulent demise of fascist-era Japan and the ascendance of Cold-War America as the leader of a new global order. An important part of this positioning was a renewed critical self-reflection in Japan, the United States' violent destabilization of newly independent nations and liberation struggles at home and abroad, and the promotion of abstract expressionism as the triumph of liberalism and individualism through an international program of touring exhibitions.
Denniston Hill’s 2015, 2016, and 2017 programming was conceived as a response to Shimamoto’s work. Through its rigorous investigation of materials and processes, the work raises not only important formal questions around the surface and space of painterly expression, but also poses important contemporary questions around the violence that underwrites neo-liberal expressions of individual subjectivity, the mythology of artistic and intellectual freedom, the economy of the creative process, the historic inheritance of global fascism, and the mutability of gender and sexuality. The residents and projects during this period were chosen by our board of directors and advisors because they share an affinity for the inquiries, forms, and ideas expressed in Holes.