PAN Amsterdam: Tadaaki Kuwayama | Rakuko Naito | Tomas Rajlich

18 - 26 November 2023
Installation Views

Stand 36 

Tadaaki Kuwayama (b. 1932 Nagoya, Japan - d. 2023 New York, USA) and wife Rakuko Naito (b. 1935 Tokyo, Japan) both studied at the Nihonga (modern Japanese-style painting) program of Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. In 1958 they left the conservative Tokyo for New York City where they have lived and worked together ever since throughout their impressive six-decade career. Belonging to the generation of diasporic Japanese artists born before World War II who have lived in New York, including Arakawa, Yoko Ono, Yayoi Kusama, and Minoru Niizuma who all escaped the censorship of the totalitarian regime of which Art would be subject to. In New York the couple flourished and played integral roles in the Minimalism movement, where artists favoured industrial materials, avoided overt symbolism and emotional content, and instead called attention to the materiality of the works, working alongside artists such as Donald Judd and Frank Stella.
The work of Tadaaki Kuwayama is characterised by “radical neutrality,” as art historian Michio Hayashi describes it. Since the early 1960s, Kuwayama has adamantly broken from existing modes of artistic expression in order to create neutral art where the artist removes all the characteristics from a painting to the degree where you can no longer judge the painting with aesthetic conventions. His most representative work from the mid-1960s comprised of four equivalent squares, each framed by aluminium strips and bordered by thin black lines. This structure has no top or bottom; hence, the work is free of composition. His remarkably neutral panels challenge people, as they can no longer judge his painting as “good or bad.” In order to fully appreciate Kuwayama’s artworks, the viewers need to leave one’s own conventional ideas behind.
In 1961 Kuwayama had his first solo exhibition at Green Gallery, a prominent vanguard venue in New York that featured many up-and-coming artists, including Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Yayoi Kusama, Robert Morris, and Andy Warhol. In that year, Kuwayama already was part of the Carnegie International, and Art in America featured him as “New Talent USA,” in 1964. The future Minimalist, Donald Judd, then a young critic with Arts magazine, had reviewed every solo exhibition of Kuwayama’s until 1964. However, unlike Minimalists, who were not reluctant to employ the commercially available fluorescent lights or industrial paints, Kuwayama acquires industrial effects in his work by using spray guns and mixing his own pigments and carefully building his work. In this respect, Kuwayama’s work aligns with his generation of European artists, such as the German Zero artist, Otto Piene and his collaborator Yves Klein. Emerging from the totalitarian societies, these artists sought for new materials and methods that can offer “an experience that is completely different from viewing conventional paintings,” so that their art could liberate the ideas and senses of their onlookers.
In the 1960s Naito began as a minimal Op artist experimenting with the Moire effect after being introduced to acrylic paint (an American material) by her friend, the painter Sam Francis. Before moving on to working with the paper assemblages that she has dedicated her artistic practice to for the past three decades. Working with kozo and mino washi; traditional Japanese papers which can be traced back to the Nara period in 8th century Japan, Naito contrasts this strong-fibred, man-made material with the organic forms produced by tearing, rolling, folding, and burning the paper. A modern combination of drawing and sculpture, Naito plays with order and structure, strength and vulnerability.
Like Kuwayama, Naito was keen to avoid the artists hand, and any trace of human narrative, with both artists choosing not to use titles (only an alphanumeric identification code) discarding any suggestion of excess with extreme restraint. Naito, however, allows the organic and imperfect forms of the neutral-coloured natural material to take precedence allowing a measure of poetry and philosophical reflection. Naito has said, “I feel natural forms and textures have a reality that can not be competed by trying to paint or drawn by hand. I try to experiment and manipulate materials to create my own world.”
Naito’s work is in the permanent collections of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA; Voorlinden Museum, Wassenaar, Netherlands; Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ; Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, Buenos Aires, Argentina; and The Larry Aldrich Museum, Ridgefield, CT. Naito was an artist in Residence at the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation in 2003.
Kuwayama’s work is in the permanent collections of Guggenheim Museum, New York City, New York, USA; 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, California; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, California; The National Museum of Art, Osaka, Japan; and Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Tomas Rajlich (b. 1940 Jankov, Czech Republic) enjoyed an arts education in Prague, at the School of Decorative Arts and the Academy of Fine Arts. He trained as a sculptor and soon opted for working in the geometric vein. In 1966 he co-founded the Klub Konkretistů - the Czech equivalent of Nul or Zéro -, which acquired him national fame. A couple of years later the international art world discovered his work at the Musée Rodin in the group show Sculpture Tchécoslovaque. 

In 1969 Rajlich decided to flee his homeland due to the Soviet Occupation and settled in the Netherlands. He was named professor at the Vrije Academie and found his vocation to become a painter. Represented by the galleries Art & Project, Amsterdam, and Yvon Lambert, Paris, before long his work was appreciated on an international scale and Rajlich was invited to participate in ground-breaking exhibitions like Elementaire Vormen (1975), Fracture du Monochrome aujourd'hui en Europe (1978), Bilder ohne Bilder (1978) and, most importantly, Fundamental Painting (1975) at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.

As this exhibition pointed out, Rajlich's canvases show an ongoing concern with the "fundamental" in painting, not unlike contemporary work by the American Minimal painters. His early works are characterized by an industrial outlook and a modular quality - their trademark is the grid -, while Rajlich's mature works show a more complex treatment of the key idea that painting is a self-reflective entity. His recent monochromes explore the combination of the impersonal, the gestural and the creative force of light; they are variations on the intensity, luminosity and facture of the paint, all while clearly remaining a factual painting. The artist's sensibility emanates from the subtle modulation of the paint on the canvas, yet the emphasis is on color and the creative force of light that eternally changes the painted surface. It imbues these canvases with a life of their own, which never ceases to tickle the sensibility of the viewer. They are paintings continuously reviewing painting.

Rajlich's first retrospective show was presented by the Palazzo Martinengo, Brescia, in 1993. His adoptive nation, the Netherlands, awarded Rajlich the prestigious Ouborg Award for his lifetime endeavors in 1994, at which occasion the Haags Gemeentemuseum hosted a second retrospective exhibition; and a decade later in 2005, in honor of his 65th birthday, the museum showed a retrospective of the artist's works on paper. In his native Czech Republic, the Dům umění města Brna featured a retrospective in 1998. 

Rajlich works are part of numerous respected public collections worldwide and he regularly receives commissions to execute monumental paintings; for example, Rajlich has created six large-scale canvases for the conference room of the Raad van State in The Hague and, recently, a six meters high canvas and an engraved glass wall for the Embassy of the Netherlands in Ghana. From 1999 to 2002 Rajlich was an artist in residence at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. He lives and works in Prague, Czech Republic, and near Verona, Italy.