Posts Tagged 'Kazuya Sakai'

The Life and Work of Kazuya Sakai

To celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we’re spotlighting a unique Latin American artist of Asian descent whose painting we are proud to welcome into the DMA’s collection this spring: Kazuya Sakai.

Kazuya Sakai (1927-2001) was an artist, as well as a translator, professor, magazine editor, critic, and jazz and new music expert. His impressive biography spans three continents. He was born in Buenos Aires and immigrated to Japan as a child, where he completed his formal education. As a young adult, he returned to Argentina and began a long career that would take him to New York City, Mexico City, Austin, San Antonio, and, finally, Dallas. 

Sakai was recognized among the leading Latin American abstract artists of his time, and his work often drew upon both contemporary trends and Japanese artistic traditions. The brushstrokes in early gestural paintings from his time in Argentina make allusions to Japanese calligraphy. The undulating bands seen in his colorful geometric paintings that he started in the 1970s in Mexico were partially inspired by the bold colors and striking patterns of 17th century Japanese Rinpa artist Ogata Kōrin. His Genroku series of works, created after he moved to Texas, was named after the culturally rich period of Japanese history from 1688 to 1704.

This September, the DMA presents Expressive Abstractions, an exhibition of works from our own collection that reexamines the history of abstract art during the mid-20th century, and the significant innovations of Black, East Asian, Latin American, and women artists. Sakai’s painting Integrales II (Edgard Varèse) (1979), acquired by the DMA this spring, will be featured in the exhibition.

Kazuya Sakai, Integrales II (Edgard Varèse), 1979, acrylic on canvas. Copyright Kazuya Sakai’s estate, courtesy of Galería Vasari, Buenos Aires
Kazuya Sakai, The University of Texas at Dallas Office of Communications Collections

Sakai is an important figure to include in this history of postwar abstraction, and even more so for us given his connections to Texas and Dallas. He was an influential figure in Argentina, which he represented at the São Paulo Biennial in 1961 and at the Venice Biennale in 1962. He also participated in the seminal DMA exhibition, South American Art Today, in 1959. After a short stint in New York, he lived for more than a decade in Mexico, where he was an acclaimed artist of geometric abstraction. But his time in the U.S. has not received quite as much attention, although he spent the final two decades of his life here in Texas. He was selected to be a distinguished visiting professor at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin in 1976; in fall 1977 he became a visiting professor at UT San Antonio; and in 1980 he was hired as a permanent professor at UT Dallas, where he taught until he retired in 1996. In addition to mentoring countless students, Sakai had solo exhibitions at the Blanton Museum of Art and the McNay Art Museum in the 1970s, as well as co-organized the show 12 Latin American Artists Today and its related influential symposium, “Speak Out! Charla! Bate-Papo!” at the Blanton.

South American Art Today, 1959, Dallas Museum of Art

The DMA is thrilled to have Kazuya Sakai represented in our collection. His rich artistic career is an excellent example of the layered stories about diasporas and international cultural exchange we strive to tell, and the multicultural histories we celebrate about our home city and its artists.

Dr. Vivian Li, Lupe Murchison Curator of Contemporary Art
Lillian Michel, Media and Communications Specialist


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