If you told me that an international arts event would skip from Osaka to Allentown to the Guggenheim this last month I guess I wouldn’t have believed it, but that’s exactly what I saw with my own two eyes. As I walked up to the ‘Art after Dark’ on March 8th opening night I was surprised by ENORMOUS lines of museum members waiting to experience Gutai Playground… Original Gutai art works were flown in from many corners of the world to fill the entire cylindrical ramp gallery of the Guggenheim: awesome.
The Osakan artists that had just performed in Allentown were in their glory. Here in their playground the 25 visiting artists held court in the middle of the Gutai rotunda.
Renowned improvisational dressmaker and performer Miyuki Nishizawa— a.k.a. Shimbun Onna (“Newspaper Woman” in Japanese) led a newspaper couture procession up the museum ramp coils.
At the elevator, tiny eyes peered out of larger-than-life newspaper jackets… the jackets crinkled into the elevator and the doors could finally close.
Lollipop Gutai Influences was a recent international art production made possible in Allentown via FUSE. This February, Osakan artists that follow the Gutai philosophy (avant-garde art made famous in the 1950s & 60s) flew in from Japan to infuse the Lehigh Valley with their unique brand of art… Their leader Miyuki Nishizawa is known for wardrobe choices that may involve a crane, such as her five-story tall newspaper dress, as demonstrated in Allentown. Many workshops and art events ensued and Aya Iida performed a unique dance within Gregory Coates’ Soft Machine Gallery installation, ‘Stage’ – created with sustainable inner tube & down feather materials.
FUSE organizers and Allentown residents, artist Gregory Coates his partner Christiane Nienaber (aka Kiki) explained the connection to Gutai. The visiting Osakans are members of the AU Group: Art Unidentified. This group was started by Gutai Co-founder Shozo Shimamoto… so in some way it is very Gutai-related but now moving into new original ideas, with the sentiment of Gutai.
‘Newspaper woman’ Nishizawa led the Osakan group in Allentown. She is a student of the Gutai movement co-founder, Shozo Shimamoto, whose work is prominently displayed in the Guggenheim retrospective.
How does one become part of the AU Group? One can be invited to join the group, but Gregory isn’t sure how… they now have 200 members worldwide.
The WWII aftermath was the original inspiration for the Gutai Japanese movement – where there is somehow discovery of beauty from destruction, discarded objects and decay.
The Splendid Playground Guggenheim Gutai show will be up until May 8th – see more info here: http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/exhibitions/on-view/gutai-splendid-playground.
One such example is the Peace Mural, which was donated to the city by the Japanese after 9/11/2001. I organized the Mural with the help of my students from the Cooper Union, and some other Japanese friends. The Mural was designed by Fuji Fumiya. My students constructed the Mural while he was in Japan.”
Art can be a tough life to stay motivated and positive and keep moving forward – have you had many challenges and how do you get through them? “We try, like everyone else.”
Gregory admits, “I do get into ruts sometimes. But that’s normal for ideas. And if you have an idea, eventually you expire it and create new ideas. When it happens I think about my past, present and future. And I do keep busy with helping other artists.”
How did FUSE happen?
Basically we raised funds on our own, and got funding through some of our contacts in NY and Japan. The artists themselves paid for their own travel and had some assistance from fund-raising on their end too.
It’s so cool to see a big idea like FUSE come to fruition, what’s your secret?
Well we have done this before while living in Manhattan, about 20 years ago. Christiane and I had a big loft. At 191 Chrystie Street, Loft 4-R, where Kiki would host art events. And we gathered artists and the creative class who lived and worked around us.
I also had art shows in Galleries and worked in a Bar called UNDER ACME, my boss allowed me to put together art shows and mix music with poets from Columbia University, and anyone I met.
The freedom to showcase artists was valuable… So, when we moved to Allentown, we fell back into it doing something we know well. Christiane and I worked with many professional artists during our time in Berlin and NYC so we have a long history from the 1980’s to now.
What should happen for LV to become a more major art / successful artists’ destination?
I think the LV should use the “City of Allentown” as the destination and use the name “City of Allentown“ to cultivate artists and creative people since it is the third largest city in the state of PA and cities are the focus of renovation.
What’s next for Kiki & Greg?
Next is to complete the Catalogue from “Lollipop Gutai Influences” then we have other projects to consider for the City of Allentown. The Next Fuse Art Infrastructure project is to work with the Allentown Freak out Festival June 21 –June 22, 2013 here in downtown Allentown.
One project is to connect what I consider the “Exterior” with the “Interior” you may ask what that means. . . and I say: Good!