Your Portrait was one of Kudo Testsumi's favorite and most frequently used titles. While the word "you" indicated the person looking at the work, and suggested that we are constrained by a variety of established values and conventions, it also referred to Kudo himself as the work's first viewer. Further, works with this title were intended as a portrait of the human race, which is still subject to uncontrollable circumstances such as environmental pollution caused by radioactivity.

With images such as eyeballs and noses being grown alongside transistors, a bloated cerebrum riding in a baby carriage, male genitals swimming in an aquarium with small fish, and a human figure making a cat's cradle out of chromosomes while meditating in a birdcage, Kudo's works are repulsive and creepy. At the same time, however, they are spectacles which, in light of their serious nature, exude a farcical air. Instead of depicting a miserable futuristic hell, the works combine human survivors, nature, and technology in what is paradoxically a paradise.

Kudo Tetsumi (1935-1990) was born in Osaka, but spent his early childhood in his father's hometown of Aomori. Following his father's premature death in 1945, Kudo moved to his mother's hometown of Okayama, where he stayed until the end of high school. While attending Tokyo University of the Arts, Kudo showed his work in the Yomiuri Independent Exhibition, a bastion of postwar avant-garde art, and along with Shinohara Ushio and Arakawa Shusaku, became a prominent representative of the "anti-art" generation. Then, after being award the grand prize in the International Young Artists' Exhibition in 1962, Kudo moved to France. With Paris as his base, he spent the next approximately 20 years in Europe, developing a unique world of expression by fusing a critical view of civilization with scientific thought.

But unlike European-style painters of the past who had gone to Paris to study, Kudo boldly launched into the fundamental problems and taboos of human life, including sex, pollution, and atomic energy, and through challenging works that criticized and attacked modern European humanism, and provocative happenings, he set out to cure Europe's ills. A series of solo exhibitions, including one at the Kunstverien in Düsseldorf in 1970, and another one at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 1972, served as the perfect opportunity to present Kudo's artistic achievements in Europe.

In the '80s, Kudo occasionally returned to Japan, and in addition to giving lively talks, symposiums, and performances, showed series such as Structure of the Imperial System and Colored Paper. In 1987, Kudo accepted a teaching post at his alma mater of Tokyo University of the Arts, but died at the age of 55 on November 12, 1990.

In 1994, a retrospective entitled Tetsumi Kudo: Contestation / Création was held at the National Museum of Art, Osaka, and in recent years, Kudo's work has begun to be reassessed internationally. A solo exhibition was held at La Maison Rouge in 2007 followed by a large-scale retrospective at the Walker Art Center in 2008, which marked the first full-fledged introduction to Kudo's body of work in the U.S.

In this retrospective, we present a comprehensive survey of Kudo Tetsumi's over 30-year career. Included in the event will be everything from the artist's early paintings, a wide range of objects and drawings that incorporate motifs such as birdcages and aquariums, a deck chair that could not be included in the 1994 retrospective, and the rich group of works from the mid-'60s that make use of baby carriages. In addition, the event will present important works from the Centre Pompidou, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and other European and American collections, as well as photographs of happenings and performances, and related documents.

National Museum of Art, Osaka
4-2-55 Nakanoshima, kita-ku
Osaka 530-0005 Japan
Tel. +81 (0)6 64474680

Opening hours
Daily from 10am to 5pm (Fridays until 7pm)
Last admission 30 minutes before closing
Closed on Mondays

Related images

  1. Tetsumi Kudo, L'amour, 1964, Kurashiki City Art Museum ©ADAGP, Paris & JASPAR, Tokyo, 2013
  2. Tetsumi Kudo, Valsez avec le trou noir!, 1982, Private Collection ©ADAGP, Paris & JASPAR, Tokyo, 2013
  3. Tetsumi Kudo, Your Portrait '67, 1967, Aomori Museum of Art ©ADAGP, Paris & JASPAR, Tokyo, 2013
  4. A portrait of Tetsumi Kudo, 1971, photo: Hiroko Kudo ©ADAGP, Paris & JASPAR, Tokyo, 2013
  5. Tetsumi Kudo, Meditation in the Endlesstape of the Future←→Past, 1979, Aomori Museum of Art, photo: Yoshitaka Uchida (Nomadic Studio) ©ADAGP, Paris & JASPAR, Tokyo, 2013
  6. Tetsumi Kudo, Happening: Philosophy of Impotence, Cinéma-Studio de Boulogne, Paris, Feb., 1963, photo: Hiroko Kudo ©ADAGP, Paris & JASPAR, Tokyo, 2013

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