Tetsumi Kudo

(Japan) 1935-1990


Born in Osaka, Tetsumi Kudo was one of the most innovative artists in Japan in the 1950s and in France in the '60s and '70s. His works, primarily sculptural and linked to radical performances, explore the existential possibilities for humanity in an increasingly polluted and consumption-driven world – issues critical in today's artistic culture and political debate. 

In works such as those centered on cages, Kudo offered a portrait of society (often titled “Your Portrait”) in a state of decay, transformation, and growth. Often using artificially vibrant colors, Kudo created micro-worlds contained in birdcages, aquariums, gardens, greenhouses, and a suite of “Fossil in Hiroshima” drawings, which offered frozen moments of metamorphosis, in which the crossover of pollution and humanity was transformed into a new ecological landscape. In 1971-1972 Kudo declared in his writings, "pollution + cultivation = new ecology" which then was used often in his titles. One long-standing motif is the phallus – as a symbol of impotence, and also as a cocoon, a symbol of metamorphosis – that appears in many works as a symbol of mankind’s fertility and power that is morphing into a new shape: as a dried fish [Comme un poisson séché (1970-74)], and in other cases in gardens or cages taking the form of a sprouting flower or slug.

In later works, such as Meditation in the Endless Tape of the Future <--> Past (1979) and L'indépendence de la mémoire (1980), the use of threads that appeared in the late 1950s and early 1960s works, referencing the atomic structure and power of the atomic bomb, re-appeared in a self-reflective state. The structure of the cocoon and the idea of the trou noir/black hole became a method to examine the foundations of the Japanese social structure. 

This selection of work traces the development of the artist’s aesthetic and philosophical consideration of pollution, technology, and Western Humanism. Over the years, Kudo’s ideas and aesthetic have come to have a wide-ranging and profound impact, and many artists, such as Allan Kaprow, Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, and Takashi Murakami, have cited him as a significant influence.

Kudo spent 1962-1987 in Paris before returning to Tokyo, while exhibiting throughout Europe and Japan, notably at the Venice Bienniale (1976) and the Centre Georges Pompidou (1986). Major posthumous solo exhibitions include a retrospective at The National Museum of Art, Osaka/The National Museum of Modern Art Tokyo/Aomori Museum of Art (2013-2014); the Walker Art Center (2008); Andrea Rosen Gallery (2008); La Maison Rouge, Paris (2007); the National Museum of Art, Osaka (1994); the Van Reekum Museum, Apeldoorn, and the Stedelijk Museum, the Netherlands (1991); and landmark exhibitions at Guggenheim Museum (1994); and LA MoCA (1998). His work can be found in the collections of the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Chiba City Art Museum, Kurashi City Art Museum, Aomori Museum of Art, the Stedelijk Museum, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Vienna, and Musée des Beaux Arts de Montréal, amongst others. 

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