In a wide-ranging practice spanning four decades, postwar Japanese artist Tetsumi Kudo (1935 – 1990) explored the effects of mass consumerism, the rise of technology, and ecological degradation on post- war society through satirical, critical, elaborately detailed and meticulously constructed environments that continue to exert a powerful influence on artists today. Opening 5 May, ‘Tetsumi Kudo. Metamorphosis,’ the artist’s first exhibition at Hauser & Wirth New York, focuses upon the late artist’s idea of metamorphosis which emphasizes the need for personal and collective spiritual evolution beyond the values of Western Humanism, which he believed caused war, racism, and colonialism, and alienated people from the natural environment.
‘Tetsumi Kudo: Metamorphosis,’ brings together 20 significant works created in the decade following Kudo’s move from Japan to Paris in 1962. The selection includes highlights from the artist’s signature container works – cubes, cages, buckets, and terrariums – comprising meticulously constructed tableaux; a monumental canvas made with a computer, and examples of his drawings and conceptual sketches related to these series. Kudo intended his seemingly grotesque yet playful scenes as both models of contemporary life and provocations meant to encourage viewers to confront and put aside the confines of ego and the values of consumerism and to understand themselves instead as part of an integrated and intricate cosmos in which nature, technology, and humanity influenced each other in a system he dubbed the New Ecology.
Kudo understood metamorphosis on several levels – as a biological process, a social phenomenon and as a metaphor for the spiritual evolution he believed was necessary. Kudo’s aesthetics and philosophical considerations were influenced by his early interests in biology, set theory, astrophysics, quantum mechanics, and popular culture, and were inflected by post war debates in Japan and Europe about societal evolution after World War II. Kudo’s micro-worlds cultivate an uncanny fusing of imagery derived from the artist’s highly personal visual lexicon that includes eyeballs, crawling penises, cacti, plastic flowers, pills, transistors and thermometers. His ‘visual maquettes’ draw viewers into a world of mutations and self-organizing biological systems that reflect the desolation and decay mankind has wreaked upon the macroscopic world.
The exhibition at Hauser & Wirth opens with examples from Kudo’s cubes and dice. Using found and purchased objects – the detritus and stuff of European material culture – he filled small boxes with among other things, plastic dolls, kitchenware, clocks, cocoons (or objects wrapped in cocoons), and a proliferation of fragmented body parts that he constructed in paper mâché and cotton. The dice serve as metaphors for the randomness of fate, and Kudo uses their interiors to present viewers with a portrait of themselves as they are.
‘Testsumi Kudo: Metamorphosis’ is organized in cooperation with Hiroko Kudo and the Estate of the Artist as well as in collaboration with Joshua Mack.
Tetsumi Kudo: Metamorphosis will be on view from May 5 through July 30, 2021 at Hauser & Wirth, 542 West 22nd Street, Chelsea, NYC.