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  • Nov 06, 2018

Obituary: Sadaharu Horio (1939–2018)

Portrait of SADAHARU HORIO. Photo by Esther Chan for ArtAsiaPacific.

The esteemed Japanese performance artist Sadaharu Horio passed away on November 3 in Kobe, Japan. He was an integral member of the Gutai Art Assocation and part of an informal, loose group of Japanese artists active in 1970s Paris.

Horio was born in 1939 in Kobe, and began painting figurative and classical works at an early age. In the 1950s, he participated in a series of exhibitions at Ashiya City Museum of Art and History, which also exhibited works by several members of the Gutai Art Association. This exposure to Japan’s wider network of artists radicalized his approach to art, and Horio joined the group in 1966 under the wing of founder Jiro Yoshihara. At the time, he was the youngest member in the Association. In an interview with ArtAsiaPacific prior to his death, Horio recalled that Yoshihara was a ruthless mentor—at one point even causing Horio to consider quitting Gutai—challenging his works in order to, essentially, free the young artist from the constraints of traditional art-making and its thought processes. In the 1970s, Horio became affiliated with a group of Japanese artists living in Paris, mounting underground, salon-type exhibitions in a bar called “Bonkura,” which became the unofficial name for the group.

This enlightening chapter of his career galvanized an experimental, avant-garde practice rooted in existentialist theory—one of the fundamental tenets of his methodology is to grasp the ungraspable, such as the air that exists around us, or to provide definition to it. This entailed playful experimentations with form and material—for example, in 1985, Horio began a project in which he would add a new layer of acrylic paint to the same found object every day in a different hue, titling it “Ironuri,” referencing a centuries-old Japanese technique in which multiple coatings of lacquer is applied to an object. Later, he began to experiment with performances and “actions,” utilizing unorthodox materials such as colorful balloons and bric-a-brac lying around his studio, and working in short, gestural bursts, valuing the freeing, ephemeral nature of art making over the polished, finished product. He often engaged audiences in participatory performances. For Art Vending Machine, conceived in the late 2000s and installed in multiple cities, the artist sat within a self-made “vending machine” crafted of paper, where visitors could order a painting from a menu, which would be delivered minutes later by the artist himself, the ink still wet on the page.

Horio presented his work in major shows and venues internationally, including in the Yokohama Triennale in 2005; at Moderna Museet in Stockholm and Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona in 2012; and in a performance for the opening of “Gutai: Splendid Playground” at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2013. He was one of the last living Gutai artists before his death.

Ysabelle Cheung is ArtAsiaPacific’s managing editor.

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