Born in 1922 in Mie Prefecture, Motonaga was a member of the legendary Gutai Art Association (1954–72), which became famous for groundbreaking performance works and innovations in painting, sculpture, and installation art. He emerged at a time when a post-atomic surrealist existentialism was at the forefront of artistic development in Japan. However, Motonaga chose a different path and turned his back on the destruction wrought by the war in order to create paintings, sculptures, and performances that were fresh, jubilant, and playful.
In 1954, he began employing a vocabulary of embryonic shapes, flying objects, and cartoon-like forms, modeled in heavy oil paint, that revealed his interest in children’s art, manga, and popular culture, and collapsed distinctions between high and low art. By 1957, Motonaga’s work had become more abstract and featured flowing lines and pools of brightly colored pigment poured and dripped onto the canvas. This “classic style,” which developed concurrently with Morris Louis’s Veil paintings, occupied Motonaga until the mid-1960s, when his anthropomorphic sensibility returned in paintings featuring extruded and knotted forms that were delicately modeled with airbrush.
Thereafter in the 1970s, the artist’s scratchy hand-drawn forms reappeared along with the use of canned spray paint, creating a style that was fresh and raw, akin to graffiti and animation. Motonaga occupied a unique position in the Japanese art world, creating a distinct visual continuity between the artists and imagery of the immediate postwar era and the concerns that emerged in the work of contemporary painters such as Takashi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara, and beyond.
Motonaga’s work has been the subject of many retrospective exhibitions, most notably at Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art, Kobe, 1998; Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, 2003; Nagano Prefectural Shinano Art Museum , 2005; and Mie Prefectural Museum of Art, 2009. The first Western retrospective of Motonaga’s art will take place at the Dallas Museum of Art in 2014.
Artsy Editorial by Anna Louie SussmanSeeing the retrospective in Paris convinced McCaffrey, the longtime collector and gallerist, that he needed to bring her (Carol Rama) work to the U.S. market. He mounted a show of nearly 50 works from between 1938 and 1945 in September 2016. “Unless you have recognition in the U.S., you don’t really have a market,” he says. “We showed Ramas this time last year in Basel and Americans had no awareness.” This year, his booth at Art Basel in Basel placed Rama alongside the Gutai artist Kazuo Shiraga, as both artists’ work addressed life under totalitarianism by seeking to liberate the body and its functions. Read More
The Art Newspaper by Matthew WilcoxCrucial in Gutai’s sudden boom, in McCaffrey’s view, was the fact that the group had essentially been ignored in the US since the 1950s. “Look at the market for Italian post-war work, or back to the late 1980s, when the German Neo-Expressionists started to make an impact in the US. There are these discrepancies in information and knowledge that pop up.” Read More