Blum & Poe, Tokyo
September 8–October 21, 2017
Opening reception: Friday, September 8, 6–8pm
Blum & Poe is pleased to present an exhibition of sculpture by Japanese-American, Los Angeles-born Shinkichi Tajiri. His first in Tokyo in over fifty years, this presentation marks a posthumous return to the artist's ancestral place of origin after an arduous journey beginning in the hostile climate of the US during and after WWII, followed by years spent in exile thereafter.
Associated early on with Cobra, the postwar European movement named after the home cities Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam, Tajiri began his career with a sculptural style that could be described as Abstract Surrealism. This quickly diversified into a wide-ranging, innovative practice that spanned film, video, photography, and computer art, mixing elements of Surrealism, Pop, and Minimalism. This exhibition presents the two core bodies of work from his sculptural oeuvre—the Warrior and the Knot—themes that allowed the artist to confront the trauma of his personal experience and wider sociopolitical injustices.
Tajiri was born in Los Angeles to first-generation Japanese immigrants. Their lives were upended after the attack on Pearl Harbor, which occurred on Tajiri's eighteenth birthday; soon after, along with more than 120,000 other people of Japanese descent living in the United States, they were detained in an internment camp in Arizona. To escape imprisonment, in 1944 Tajiri enlisted in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (a Japanese-American regiment of the US Army), fighting in Italy soon thereafter. He was subsequently wounded in combat, reclassified as 'limited service' and reassigned to the general army command. He returned to the US in 1946 and studied for one year at the Art Institute of Chicago. However, the anti-Japanese sentiment he encountered prompted him to move to Paris in 1948, where he studied with Ossip Zadkine and Fernand Léger. There he met Karel Appel, Constant, and Corneille as they were forming Cobra with Asger Jorn and others. They invited him to take part in the International Exhibitions of Experimental Art, at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam in 1949 and the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Liège, Belgium in 1951. Tajiri resided in Paris throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s. In 1957, he married the Dutch artist Ferdi and moved to the Netherlands, where he was later granted citizenship.
Sculpted with extraordinary precision, Tajiri's "warriors" are abstract figures inspired by samurai armor, modern weaponry, and manga imagery. The artist was interested in the full range of their potential roles: as sentinels keeping watch for attack, as samurai who serve the nobility, or as rōnin—the exiled samurai who wander the land with shifting loyalties. Originating from his experience of internment, front-line combat and self-exile, these paradoxical figures connote at once strength, violence, protection, and vulnerability—in his own words: "They expressed the need to purge myself of the horrors of war." In recognition of the importance of these sculptures, in 2007 Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands unveiled Tajiri's four Sentinels permanently installed on the bridge over the Maas River in Venlo, colossal figures each standing at just under thirty feet.
This exhibition also features key examples of Tajiri's "knots." Despite their minimalist simplicity they are forms imbued with contradiction, symbolizing both peaceful union and tangled complexity. "I wanted to make a sculptural statement that would cut through all the mystification that I felt was invading the art scene," he stated. "Sculptures that would be instantly communicable to everyone and at the same time formally timeless." Tajiri's knot sculptures vary in scale, from intimate and fragile wall-mounted works made of paper to monumental public sculptures, which are located all over the Netherlands, as well as Los Angeles.
Shinkichi Tajiri (b. 1923, Los Angeles, CA; d. 2009, Baarlo, the Netherlands) has had numerous solo exhibitions, including at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1960), and the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark (1964). He has been the subject of retrospectives at the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, the Netherlands (1970); the Museum van Bommel van Dam, Venlo, the Netherlands (1993); Museum Het Valkhof, Nijmegen, the Netherlands (2003); and the Japan Museum SieboldHuis, Leiden, the Netherlands (2015). Tajiri represented the Netherlands at the Venice Biennale in 1962, and his work has been featured in numerous landmark surveys, including the World Expo in Seattle (1962); the 7th Tokyo Biennale (1963), for which he received the Mainichi Shimbun Prize; and Documenta II, III, and IV (1959, 1964, 1968). Most recently he was included in The Avant-Garde Won't Give Up: Cobra and Its Legacy, held at Blum & Poe in New York and Los Angeles in 2015, curated by Alison M. Gingeras. Tajiri's work has been collected by numerous museums, including the Boijmans van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam, the Netherlands; Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht, the Netherlands; Fukuoka Museum of Art, Japan; Kröller Müller Museum, Otterlo, the Netherlands; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, Stockholm; National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto; National Museum of Art, Osaka; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.