Sofu Teshigahara: A Visionary of Japanese Post-war Art

Sofu Teshigahara, installation view at Taka Ishii Gallery Tokyo, 29 Nov–27 Dec, 2019. Photo: Kenji Takahashi. Courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery.
Sofu Teshigahara. © Sogetsu Foundation / Courtesy of the Foundation and Taka Ishii Gallery.
Sofu Teshigahara, installation view at Taka Ishii Gallery Tokyo, 29 Nov–27 Dec, 2019. Photo: Kenji Takahashi. Courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery.
Sofu Teshigahara, installation view at Taka Ishii Gallery Tokyo, 29 Nov–27 Dec, 2019. Photo: Kenji Takahashi. Courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery.
Sofu Teshigahara, installation view at Taka Ishii Gallery Tokyo, 29 Nov–27 Dec, 2019. Photo: Kenji Takahashi. Courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery.
TOP
2662
30
0
 
16
Dec
16
Dec
Asia Society Hong Kong

An exhibition of sculptures and calligraphy works by the late Sofu Teshigahara (1900–1979), founder of the Sogetsu School of Ikebana, highlights the career of one of the most important Japanese avant-garde artists and his innovative vision that transformed the post-war art scene in Japan.

 

TEXT: Julia Tarasyuk
IMAGES: Courtesy of Taka Ishii Gallery

 

Sofu Teshigahara, installation view at Taka Ishii Gallery Tokyo, 29 Nov–27 Dec, 2019. Photo: Kenji Takahashi. Courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery.

 

Earlier this year, prominent Japanese contemporary art gallery Taka Ishii—who has two venues in Tokyo and one in Hong Kong—presented the late Sofu Teshigahara’s (1900–1979) sculptural works at Frieze London along with the likes of Leonor Antunes, Cerith Wyn Evans, Rei Naito and Nobuya Hoki. It has been a long time since Teshigahara’s sculptural brilliance has crossed eyes with international art lovers. This month, until 27 December, Taka Ishii Gallery Tokyo, in collaboration with Sogetsu Foundation, is holding a solo exhibition of Teshigahara’s important sculptures and calligraphy works produced from the 1950s to 1970s, together with unprecedented archival photo material and valuable documents. This exhibition is a true year end gift for anyone interested in the history of post-war art in Japan, offering a glimpse into the life of an extraordinary man who left an indelible mark on generations of artists and forever revolutionized one of the oldest traditional arts in Japan—the art of Ikebana.

 

Sofu Teshigahara. © Sogetsu Foundation / Courtesy of the Foundation and Taka Ishii Gallery.

 

What comes to mind when you think of Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement, a tradition which dates back to the 7th century? During that time Ikebana was solely used for religious ceremonies. Only in the 16th century these flower compositions started to gain popularity with the wider community when Buddhist tea masters introduced Ikebana as an important visual component of tea ceremonies. Over the centuries, the Ikebana movement grew to an astounding number of schools, exceeding thousands of different practices in Japan and abroad. This art form has been constantly evolving but it wasn’t until the creative genius of Teshigahara revealed itself in the form of the Sogetsu School of Ikebana in 1927, that Ikebana marked its place in the history of art.

Born into an Ikebana artist family, Teshigahara started taking lessons in his early childhood. Growing up in the formalistic traditions of Ikebana with his father being an important artist, Teshigahara eventually broke away from the classical way of doing things and led an avant-garde Ikebana movement together with artists Houn Ohara (1908–1995) and Yukio Nakagawa (1918–2012). This innovative approach to Ikebana— traditionally known as a very rigid and regulated art form—contributed to a growing popularity of the practice and to Teshigahara starting to set new art trends, within Japan and abroad.

 

Sofu Teshigahara, installation view at Taka Ishii Gallery Tokyo, 29 Nov–27 Dec, 2019. Photo: Kenji Takahashi. Courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery.

 

Thinking about the relationship of Ikebana with space, Teshigahara was looking for innovative forms, reflecting both beauty and decay, and capable of expressive storytelling through minimal appearance. Engaging with the experimental spirit of modern art, Teshigahara set to combine plants with vases hand-crafted from iron, which resulted in works such as Sanpo (Walk, 1951) and legendary Kikansha (Locomotive, 1951). Later he followed on to entirely eliminate plants, presenting the sculptural work, Mure (Flock, 1953). In this first truly revolutionary work of Ikebana art, Teshigahara hoped to demonstrate that it was possible to create expression with absolutely anything. It was a liberation of form, setting up a free dialogue with space.

An avid art lover, Teshigahara traveled to the United States and Europe in the 1950s. There, encounters with artists and exposure to important works of modern art expanded his vision and pushed him into shifting to new materials, including roots and lumps of bark. Their natural organic forms encouraged experiments with large-scale sculptural works that reflected an overwhelming vitality of plants. Among these works was Inochi (Life, 1956), which appropriated three tons of thousand-year old wisteria vines, and a 30-meter tall Ikebana work titled Maten (Babel, 1958), produced as a symbol for the Ise Grand Shrine Expo.

 

Sofu Teshigahara, installation view at Taka Ishii Gallery Tokyo, 29 Nov–27 Dec, 2019. Photo: Kenji Takahashi. Courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery.

 

In 1957 during his research trip to Japan, renowned French art critic and curator Michel Tapié named Teshigahara one of the best Japanese avant-garde artists, contributing to a growing international interest in his work. From the early 1950s, he participated in numerous group and solo exhibitions in museums both in Japan and abroad, including the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (1953), the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels (1966), the Lincoln Center, New York (1964), the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto (1967) and the Palais Galliera in Paris (1971).

A visionary artist himself, Teshigahara was instrumental in creating a vibrant artistic community by inviting and hosting distinguished international artists in Japan. The Sogetsu Art Center, founded in 1958 and run by his son Hiroshi, has seen live events by John Cage and David Tudor, Yoko Ono and Robert Rauschenberg, Merce Cunningham Dance Company, among many others. This patronage of international avant-garde art significantly influenced a great number of Japanese artists and left a mark in the canon of modern and contemporary Japanese art.

 

Sofu Teshigahara, installation view at Taka Ishii Gallery Tokyo, 29 Nov–27 Dec, 2019. Photo: Kenji Takahashi. Courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery.

 

Teshigahara’s artistic collaborations culminated in 1978 when Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988) completed a huge commission work for Sogetsu Plaza. A stone and water garden, Heaven has become one of the signature art landmarks in Tokyo and until today, serves as a venue for numerous exhibitions, live performances and, of course, Ikebana demonstrations. Noguchi and Teshigahara became true friends sharing a unique vision of materials, forms and spatial perception. Noguchi liked talking about his works as his “intrusions forgiven by nature,” which so accurately resonated with Teshigahara’s philosophy and found representation in everything he created in Ikebana art and beyond.

 

Sofu Teshigahara
29 November – 27 December, 2019
Taka Ishii Gallery, Tokyo

 

 


 

Julia Tarasyuk is an art historian and contemporary art specialist with over a decade of experience collaborating with museums, galleries and independent art projects in Russia, UK, France and Japan. For the past five years Julia has been based in Tokyo, Japan, where she has launched her art consultancy focusing on young and mid-career Japanese artists. In addition, she has been organising tailor-made art tours in Japan for various institutions and private collectors. Julia is an author of Art Tokyo book published in Russia in 2018 and a regular contributor to international art magazines on the subject of contemporary art. With her recent projects, publications and exhibitions she has been actively supporting the exchange between the Japanese and international art scene. www.juliatarasyuk.com

 
Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply