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In context

Yoshishige Saitō

the balance between pre-war avant-garde and post-war abstraction 

Yoshishige Saitō was a seminal figure in Japanese art of the 20th century and a crucial link between leftist artistic avant-garde of the 1920s and post-World War II abstract art in Japan. He grew up in a wealthy environment in Tokyo. During his childhood, he encountered European architecture and painting in photographs and postcards owned by his father who was an army officer. He was also an avid reader of European and Russian literature. At an early age he started to paint landscapes and figure paintings in the style of Cézanne and van Gogh.

Saitō’s engagement with avant-garde art began in the 1920s. He visited the exhibition of Russian Futurist paintings by David Burliuk and Victor Palmov in Tokyo in 1920 and learned about European avant-garde art via catalogues and magazines. Around 1928, Saitō began to create three-dimensional works, fuelled by a closer study of Russian constructivism and European Dada artists such as Jean Arp, Francis Picabia and Kurt Schwitters. In 1933, Saitō joined the Avangyarudo Yōga Kenkyūjo (Avant-garde Oil Painting Institute). Disappointed by its academicism, he quit in 1935. During the 1930s and early 1940s he was an active part of the cultural avant-garde and surrealist movements in Japan. Shortly before the end of World War II, Saitō’s works, notebooks, and other documents were lost in a fire caused by an air raid.

After the war he worked as an editor and began offering painting classes. His works were shown at group exhibitions from the early 1950s onwards. The year 1957 marked Saitō’s breakthrough on the Japanese art scene, with his works being included in major group exhibitions. In 1958, Saitō’s first solo exhibition took place at the Tokyo Gallery. The show proved successful for the artist, as all exhibited works were sold and the show cemented Saitō’s lifelong close collaboration with the gallery. Subsequently, Saitō’s works continued to be shown in numerous major group exhibitions of Japanese contemporary art and painting in Japan and abroad. The artist’s fist trip to Europe took place in 1960 and since then, Saitō frequently travelled to Europe, Egypt and the USA. In 1964 Saitō became a professor at the Tama Art University in Tokyo. His classes were known for the unconventional teaching methods he used to foster his students’ artistic autonomy and to dismantle academic concepts. Some of his students later became members of the Mono-Ha art movement. In 1982, the Tokyo School of Art, was founded following Saitō’s pedagogical principles. One of them was “not to teach”, by which Saitō intended to foster independence and to spur his students to work out their individual approaches without any help. First engaged as a lecturer, he became the school’s director in 1985.

The two works included in this auction are examples of the artist’s theme with spatial constructions from 1980 and onwards. Assemblages of conjoined black painted wooden planks explore the spaces emerging from constellations and emphasize the instability of their construction. The dissymmetric ”Disproportion I” (1980) is Saitō’s first example in this new artistic path. With ”Drum I” he explores the work with the surrounding environment as well as the boundary between flatness and three-dimensionality. The works have not been shown since the exhibition at Galerie Blanche in Stockholm 1989 and have been properly stored in their original wooden crates from Tokyo Gallery.

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Jeanna Ahlin


Modern och samtida konst
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Sofie Bexhed


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