Shozo Shimamoto

Shozo Shimamoto, Vento d'Oriente, Performance Bottle Crash, Punta Campanella 2008, ph. Fabio Donato © Fondazione Morra

Shozo Shimamoto was born in Osaka, Japan, in 1928. Together with Jiro Yoshihara, he was co- founder of the Gutai group, and he is considered one of the most experimental artists in the period after World War II. Gutai, the first radical artistic movement in Japan, developed in the late fifties, more or less contemporary with the informal movement in European and American art.

Its main aim was to give new life to the Japanese artistic tradition. A work of art, for them, was no longer a simple support, but became a physical transposition of the artist's actions, which is what (like in action painting) turns the work of art into an action. Shimamoto, a pivotal figure in the movement, felt the need for new signs of expression that he found both in action and matter.

The first artistic experiments, the Ana (holes), which date back to the forties, consist of a series of sheets of paper covered with a layer of white paint. Shimamoto would rub his body against them to make gashes. After a period of assiduous study with Yoshihara, in 1954 he and his teacher jointly decided to found the Gutai group - The Concrete Art Movement. When, in the pine forest in Ashiya, the group officially appeared in public for the first time in 1955, Shimamoto presented a sheet of metal painted white on one side and blue on the other. In the dark, all the perforations created the effect of a starry sky thanks to a lamp shining onto it. These first experiments were followed by Please walk on here (1956), a wooden walkway mounted on a spring system which allowed the user to actively experience the existential precariousness of walking, and Cannon Work, where paint was fired onto a canvas from a small cannon. This was the first of his works dedicated to the liberation of the random expressiveness of matter.

Shortly afterwards, Shimamoto developed the bottle crash technique, a practice consisting in throwing bottles full of paint onto a canvas. The work of art becomes the result of a relational process between action and matter, between action and colour, whose leitmotif is randomness, and the artist is an actor and interpreter of a performative action shared with the audience, a witness and completion of the scenario of colour built up by the artist. In 1957, he took part in his first exhibition, "Gutai Art on the Stage" at the Sankei Center in Osaka, where he exhibited his video and sound works. It was then that he also began to hold exhibitions outside Japan, appearing in important institutions and galleries such as the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and the Musée cantonal des Beaux Arts in Lausanne.

In 1972, the Gutai Group broke up after the death of Yoshihara, and Shimamoto began exploring Mail Art, an avant-garde practice consisting in sending letters, postcards, envelopes and the like, raised to the level of art through ad hoc modifications and delivered to one or more recipients by post. Shimamoto formed his own vision of Mail Art: his shaved head became the medium on which to write, paint, or affix objects. In 1987 the Dallas Museum invited him to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Duchamp. His performance consisted in projecting messages of peace and film clips onto his head. In the nineties he took up the Bottle Crash technique once more, endowing it with new meanings. He put on a series of performances in the US and throughout Europe.

In 1998 he was selected for an exhibition at MOCA in Los Angeles as one of the four greatest artists of the post-war world, along with Jackson Pollock, John Cage and Lucio Fontana; the following year he took part in the 48th Venice Biennale with David Bowes and Yoko Ono. In 2004, he did a performance from a helicopter in anticipation of the forthcoming 2005 Venice Biennale. In May 2006, the Fondazione Morra in Naples hosted a retrospective, "Shozo Shimamoto. Opere '50-'90", that opened with a performance in Naples’ historic Piazza Dante, where, suspended from a crane and accompanied on the piano by Charlemagne Palestine, he dropped a ball full of paint onto a canvas. Among the many collections where his works can be seen, of particular note are the Tate Gallery, the Pompidou Centre, and the Galleria di Arte Moderna in Rome, as well as almost all the Japanese galleries. He died in Osaka in 2013.

|Curriculum Vitae|

Born in Osaka, Japan.

Begins to take an interest in art and to attend Jiro Yoshihara’s studio, where he produces his first works, the ‘Ana’ (Holes).

Together with other young artists close to Yoshihara, he takes part in the ‘Seven avant-garde artists’ exhibition held at the Kintetsu department store in Osaka.

Graduates from Kansai Gakuin University.

Wins the Asahi Award at the All-Kansai Art Exhibition and the Association Award at the Association of Modern Art Exhibition. Participates in the ‘First Exhibition of the Genbi Group’, a movement started by Muramatsu Hiroshi but with Yoshihara as the true guiding light. The event, held at the Asahi Biru Gallery in Kobe, brings together the group of young artists who would set up the Gutai Group soon afterwards.

Under Yoshihara’s guidance, Shimamoto and other students found the Gutai Concrete Art Movement. Shimamoto suggests the name and makes his home available to the group; it becomes their official headquarters. It is from here that the ‘Gutai’ journals, the official magazine of the Association, are printed and distributed.

The first ‘Gutai’ journal comes out; it contains some photographs of works by the artists of the group, including one by Shimamoto. The members of Gutai and the Zero Group (Tanaka, Shiraga, Murakami, Kanayama), take part in the ‘7th Yomiuri Independent Exhibition’, an annual event held by the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum to give young artists a platform. On this occasion, their works are signed ‘Gutai’. During the ‘Experimental Outdoor Modern Art Exhibition to challenge the Midsummer Burning Sun’, the first autonomous meeting of the Gutai Group held in the Ashiya pine forest, Shimamoto exhibits a sheet of metal dotted with small holes painted white on one side and blue on the other. In the evening, a lamp illuminates the sheet from behind, creating an effect like a starry sky. In the same year, Shimamoto takes part in the ‘First Gutai Exhibition’, held indoors at the Ohara Kaikan in Tokyo: for the occasion he presents his ‘Please, walk on here’ made from a series of wooden planks mounted on a system of springs that make the visitors’ path precarious and unstable.

At the ‘Second Exhibition of Modern Art outdoors’, Shimamoto stages the ‘Performance of Destruction’, in which he experiments with a new technique where he fires paint-filled bags from a cannon to the accompaniment of background music. In October 1956, Gutai hold their second exhibition at Ohara Kaikan in Tokyo: Shimamoto puts a large canvas on the floor. Then he places a boulder in the middle and hurls bottles filled with different coloured paints at it. This is the first experiment in the bottle crash technique, one that will reflect on much of his future work. ‘Life’ magazine covers a performance by Shimamoto (never published).

Takes part in the first ‘Gutai Art on the Stage’ exhibition at the Sankei Center in Osaka, showing his pioneering video and audio works. He also participates in the ‘First Exhibition of Young Asahi Talent’ at the Takashimaya department store in Asahi.

During the second ‘Gutai Art on the Stage’ performance at the Asahi Kaikan, he simultaneously projects on the same screen two different films of his own. Speaking of this he says, ‘For this event I decided to do something called “The movie never seen all over the world”’. Taking used 35-mm film given to him by a former pupil, which he then washes in vinegar, Shimamoto adds dots and lines. The second evening of ‘Gutai Art on the Stage’ is part of the ‘International Festival of Osaka’. It includes the ‘International Art of a New Era. Informal and Gutai’ exhibition at the Takashimaya department store. Here the Gutai Group strengthen their ties with the French critic Michel Tapié, having made contact during his visit with artist Georges Mathieu the year before.

The BBC covers his action painting at the Toyosaki school: the work consists in throwing glass bottles full of paint. An event, ‘Arte Nuova’, is organised for the Turin International Festival at Palazzo Granieri, with approximately one hundred canvases by European, American, and Japanese artists (Gutai and informal) on show.

Tapié promotes the exhibition ‘Continuité et avant-garde au Japon’ at the International Center of Aesthetic Research in Turin.

Shimamoto holds his first solo exhibition at the Gutai Gallery, opening in September of the same year in Osaka.

Takes part in the‘Nul Negentienhonderd vijf en Zegtig’ exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

Participates in the‘II Salon International des Galeries Pilotes’ at the Cantonal Museum of Fine Arts in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Takes part in the ‘IX Exposition d’art japonais contemporain’ _at the Tokyo Museum.

Holds two solo exhibitions: one at the Galeria Sobrad in São Paulo and the other at the Muramatsu in Tokyo. With Yoshihara’s death, the Gutai Group dissolves. Shimamoto begins to take an interest in Mail Art.

Becomes involved with the Artists’ Union Group and is elected chief secretary. He becomes one of the leading exponents of Mail Art and develops a new and very personal vision of the man-artist and the work of art as a product of a social and collective effort.

Takes part in the exhibition ‘Today’s notion of space’ at the Municipal Art Gallery in Yokohama and the retrospective exhibition ‘18 years of Gutai art’ at the Art Gallery of the Osaka Prefecture. Makes a road from 10,000 pages of newspapers along the bank of the river Mukogawa.

Exhibits 10,000 daily papers at the ‘World Symposium Invitation Show’ in Alberta, Canada. Part of the ‘After Yoshihara and the Gutai’ collective at the Museum of Modern Art in Kobe.

Holds a solo exhibition at the Osaka Center for Contemporary Art.
In the same year he exhibits at ‘Directions in Japanese Art 1 - The 50s - Darkness and Rays of Light’ at the Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo.

Presents his works at ‘Towards the Museum of Tomorrow - The Theatre of Living Art’ at the Museum of Modern Art in Kobe.

Elected mayor of the Ryujin International Art Village. Takes part in ‘6 Gutai Artists-Artists Union’ exhibition with five other artists at the Itami Municipal Art Gallery.

Presents a performance at the Hundertmark Gallery in Cologne and participates in the exhibition ‘Gutai Works: Shiraga, Motonaga, Murakami, Uemae, Kanayama, and others’, at Studio Morra in Naples.

On show in Antwerp and Osaka. Goes to Oxford for the retrospective ‘Reconstructions: Avant-Garde Art in Japan 1945-1965’ at the Museum of Modern Art. Also in 1985 he is invited to Madrid for the ‘Gutai Group: Pintura y Acción’ exhibition at the Spanish Museum of Contemporary Art, and then to the Muszej Savremene Umetnosti in Belgrade and the Museum of Modern Art in Kobe.

Shimamoto invites Guglielmo Achille Cavellini, the leading Italian mail artist, to the ‘First Osaka Sister-City Festival’. From now on, Shimamoto will continue to use his shaved head as a medium for his Mail Art activities, participating in the ‘Peace Run’ across Europe organised by the American Indian Group. Participates in the exhibition ‘Japon des avant gardes’ at the Georges Pompidou Centre, where he presents his audio works.

Invited by the Dallas Museum to stage a performance on the centenary of Marcel Duchamp’s birth, he projects messages of peace and film clips onto his shaved head.

For the opening of the ‘Giappone all’avanguardia. II Gruppo Gutai negli anni Cinquanta’ exhibition, the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome invites Shimamoto to reproduce his 1956 performance done at the ‘Second exhibition at the Ohara Kaikan’ in Tokyo, adding new meanings related to Network philosophy. Shimamoto invites postal artists to send him small objects to put inside small paint-filled bottles. The large canvas is inspired by the Network, and contains paint, grains of rice, shells, sand, and other materials of this kind.

He is invited to take part in the ‘Gutai Japanische Avantgarde 1954-1965’ exhibition organised by the Institut Mathildenhöhe in Darmstadt and contributes ten large-scale works. A photo of one of his performances appears in ‘Flash Art International’.

Invited to the 45th Venice Biennial as a member of Gutai. Performs a bottle crash.

On show at the exhibition ‘Japanese Art after 1945: scream against the sky’ organised by Alexandra Munroe at the Guggenheim in New York.

Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his pacifist activity after meeting nuclear physicist Bern Porter in Japan. Porter had been involved in developing the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Solo exhibition with a performance: ‘Shozo Shimamoto, Gutai-Works’ at the Hundertmark Gallery in Cologne.

At ‘Out of Actions: Between performance and the Object, 1949-1979’, at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) in Los Angeles, his 1950 work ‘Holes’ is chosen for display in the same room as Pollock, Cage and Fontana. The exhibition then travels to the Österreichisches Museum für angewandte Kunst in Vienna and then on to the Museu d’Art Contemporani in Barcelona and the Tokyo City Museum of Art.

Invited again to the Venice Biennial. He travels to Verona and Milan for the ‘Show Shimamoto Italian Festival’, with works from the fifties and sixties, large-scale installations, and documentation on mail art. A retrospective Gutai collective is held at the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume in Paris.

Shimamoto does a large-scale performance in France, sponsored by the Felissimo Museum, in which he creates an enormous surface out of sheets of newspaper from all over the world. He throws paint-filled balloons down onto the canvas from a hot air balloon. One of the works produced during the performance is displayed at the Unesco Head Office in Paris. The Nishinomiya Yacht Harbour hosts the start of a work entitled ‘A Proof of Peace’, which will remain in place as a monument for 100 years.

Invited to the London ‘Japan Year’. Some of his works are purchased by the Tate Modern. Takes part in the exhibition ‘Le Tribù dell’Arte’ by Achille Bonito Oliva at the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome.

Takes part in ‘Who’s Norma Jean?’ organised by the Primrose Gallery in London.

Invited to the 50th Venice Biennial presenting the ‘Brain Academy Apartment International Project’. Also in Italy, he takes part in ‘Skin Deep’ at the Museo di Arte Moderna e Contemporanea - MART, in Rovereto and at ‘Living Theatre/Labirinti dell’Immaginario’ organised by Lorenzo Mango and Giuseppe Morra at Castel Sant’Elmo, Naples.

A performance using a helicopter, organised by our Association, ‘Association bbcc Onlus (ABCOnlus)’ and architect Luigi de Marchi as a pre-event prior to the 2005 Venice Biennial.

A second performance in Italy, this time in Trevi, where he hurls paint out of a helicopter. He also obtains a solo exhibition organised by Guglielmo di Mauro at the Flash Art Museum. Solo exhibition in May at Atelier 25 in Reggio Emilia, together with the Associazione Pari & Dispari.
Takes part in the exhibition ‘Un cuscino per sognare’ promoted by the Reggio Emilia City Council in conjunction with the Archivio Pari & Dispari.

Invited to show ten of his works and two reconstructions of ‘Please, walk on here’ at the ‘Zero. Avant-garde Internationale des années 1950-60’ collective at the Kunst Palast Museum in Düsseldorf and later at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Saint Etienne. In the historical Piazza Dante in Naples, he presents the performance-event ‘A weapon of Peace’ where, raised up in the air from a crane, he holds a small sphere full of coloured paint that he throws down onto the canvas in a seraphic gesture.
The action is accompanied by the music of Charlemagne Palestine. The performance is organised in conjunction with Rosanna Chiessi’s Archivio Storico Pari e Dispari followed by the ‘Shozo Shimamoto. Opere anni ’50-’90’ exhibition at the Morra Foundation. The Chinese Government invite him to hold performances in Beijing and Chang Xing.

He presents the Felissimo WHITE PROJECT performance at the Kobe Fashion Museum. The works created are displayed at the Hyogo Prefectural Diplomatic Establishment and at the Kobe Fashion Museum. Attends the P3 Project for the Venice Biennial, where he performs a Bottle Crash in the cloister of San Nicolò. A few of his more representative works are displayed at the ‘Artempo’ collective organised by Mattijs Visser and Axel Vervoordt at Palazzo Fortuny in Venice.

On May 7th Shimamoto carries out a performance at Punta Campanella, Naples. It involves a group of dancers dressed as brides with glasses full of paint on their heads. On May 9th he does a performance in the cloister of the Certosa di San Giacomo on Capri, hurling paint onto eight canvases stretched out on the ground and two double basses beside them, covered with musical scores and held up by two young women. Also at the Certosa di San Giacomo on Capri, he exhibits a number of works at the ‘Vento d’Oriente’ exhibition. Museo Magi ‘900 in Pieve Di Cento (BO) hosts Shozo Shimamoto/Yasuo Sumi – Colours of Peace, with a performance in the Museum’s Modigliani room. On November 13th 2008, the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea at Villa Croce, Genoa, hosts ‘Shozo Shimamoto. Samurai, acrobata dello sguardo’, by Achille Bonito Oliva.

For ‘Roma. Road to Contemporary Art’, Shimamoto shows two works in different exhibitions: - ‘Cose mai viste II’, by Achille Bonito Oliva at Palazzo Barberini, dedicated to works from the artists’ private collections, and at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, with the Fondazione Morra, the Archivio Pari & Dispari, and the Associazione Shozo Shimamoto. He takes part in the collective exhibition ‘Madre Coraggio: l’arte’ organised by Achille Bonito Oliva as part of the Ravello Festival. He holds a solo exhibition at the ‘VV8 arte contemporanea’ Gallery in Reggio Emilia, in conjunction with the Associazione Shozo Shimamoto, entitled ‘La danza del colore’, with a performance by choreographer Mauro Bigonzetti and four dancers from the Fondazione Nazionale di Danza Aterballetto who bring to life the wedding dresses made by Shimamoto for the action in Punta Campanella.

Shimamoto exhibits sculptures and large canvases from the performances in Venice, Punta Campanella, Capri, and Genoa at the Basilica of Santo Stefano in Bologna for ‘Arte Fiera OFF’ at an event organised by Achille Bonito Oliva. Solo exhibition at the Morra Foundation in Naples. In addition to the large-scale works, there are two video projections by Mario Franco documenting the Piazza Dante performance in Naples (2006) and the one held in Punta Campanella. Shimamoto is invited to do two performances at the Moderna Museet of Stockholm, Sweden for ‘An experimental conference on art and science to challenge the mid-summer sun’, where he reinterprets his 1956 cannon performance and the stage performance of 1957.

From March 14th to May 5th, 2012 he runs a personal exhibition, ‘Shozo Shimamoto’, at the Axel Vervoordt Gallery in Antverp (Belgium).

On January 25th 2013, Shozo Shimamoto dies in Osaka. The work of the Association continues in his name, safeguarding and promoting the image of the master.
Solo exhibition ‘Shozo Shimamoto - Memorial Exhibition’ from September 12th to January 31st at Studio Visconti in Milan, Italy.
From August 24th to September 14th, 2013 solo exhibition ‘Shozo Shimamoto - Malerei und Geste - Die Materie der Aktionen’, at the Galerie Hofburg, Brixen, Italy.
‘Memorial Event Shozo-ism’, Novotel Hotel Koshien, Osaka, Japan.

From September 3rd to October 10th, 2015 the ‘Shimamoto - The Gutai Works’ exhibition at the Axel Vervoordt Gallery in Antwerp, Belgium.
From May 7th to June 20th, 2015 a solo exhibition at the De Buck Gallery in New York, USA.

From April 29th to 22nd September, a solo exhibition at the Karuizawa New Art Museum, Nagano Prefecture, Japan.
From November 3rd, 2016 to February 18th, 2017 the ‘Shozo Shimamoto - Do Something Interesting, See Something Odd’ exhibition at the De Buck Gallery in New York, USA.

From June 13th to August 6th, Shozo Shimamoto: ‘Spazio nel tempo’ organised by Achille Bonito Oliva – Fondazione Sant’Elia - Palermo, as part of the ‘Palermo Capital of Culture 2018’ event, in the context of “Manifesta” – collateral events.

From 14 November 2019 to 17 May 2020, "ACROSS THE BORDERLANDS OF ART - SHOZO SHIMAMOTO" was exhibited at ALIEN Art Centre, Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
Curated by Yaman Shao and Jérôme Neutres.

Related Works

Shozo Shimamoto:Across The Borderlands of Art