“Slip Zone”: East Asian Artist Spotlights

The upcoming fall exhibition Slip Zone: A New Look at Postwar Abstraction in the Americas and East Asia looks to tell an expansive story of abstract art after 1945. Highlighting the work of artists working in places such as Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Osaka, Rio de Janeiro, Seoul, Tokyo, and beyond, Slip Zone seeks to help visitors understand how artists in various global centers revolutionized new forms, materials, and techniques in the decades following World War II.

In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, it’s especially important that we bring attention to the impressive selection of works by East Asian artists featured in this exhibition. Artists such as Jiro Yoshihara, leader of the Gutai group (the first radical Japanese postwar art collective, founded in 1954 in Osaka), and Lee Ufan, leader of Mono-ha (a movement that emerged in Tokyo and included artists who experimented with natural and raw materials in response to the ruthless industrialization in 1960s Japan), made their mark by pushing artistic boundaries in both their process and presentation, which also resonated with prominent abstract art practices happening around the world. Many of these artists have had their names recognized only at the margins of postwar Euro-American art historical discourse today; however, it was important in the planning of Slip Zone that they are centered in the postwar discourse.

Lee Ufan, Relatum, 1968/1969/2011, steel, glass, and stone, The Rachofsky Collection and the Dallas Museum of Art through the TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, 2012.20.4.a–c, © Lee Ufan

Jiro Yoshihara’s position as one of the lead artists in the Gutai group was undoubtedly informed by the meticulous nature of his practice as a painter. In Yoshihara’s Work, which will be featured prominently at the beginning of the exhibition, the artist laboriously coats multiple layers of red and blue oil paint to create the ensō, a calligraphic circular form synonymous with Zen art and philosophy. Yoshihara’s filling of the negative space surrounding the ensō though subverts the symbol’s usual gestural immediacy. We see this contrasted in Sam Francis’s approach to negative space in his 1959 work Emblem, which will hang in the exhibition next to Yoshihara’s Work. Emblem was created soon after Francis’s first trip to Japan in 1957. Inspired by the Zen art principles that can be found in the work of the Gutai collective and other artists he was exposed to while living in Japan in the 1960s and 1970s, Francis painted over colorful areas with white and incorporated white drips into his work, revealing the artist’s conscious shaping of negative space in his works.

Jiro Yoshihara, Work, 1965, oil on canvas, The Rachofsky Collection
Sam Francis, Emblem, 1959, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of the Meadows Foundation, Incorporated, 1981.117, © Estate of Sam Francis / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

This kind of transnational dialogue takes place throughout the exhibition to illustrate how the connections present in the exhibition are both formal and personal. Slip Zone presents a new and exciting take on modern abstraction that breaks down how artists were engaging with new materials, new approaches, and new techniques in similar ways and at similar times because of the personal dialogues and exchanges taking place between artists and artist communities around the world.

Ashleigh Smith is the McDermott Intern for Contemporary Art at the DMA.


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