The first time I saw Yayoi Kusama’s works was in 1986 at Tokyo’s Fuji TV Gallery.I had heard all about her 1960s New York period from other artists: how Donald Judd thought highly of her white Infinity Nets paintings, how she used to show up at openings wearing a Mylar kimono, and how her Happenings were every bit as important in the history of performance art as Carolee Schneeman’s Meat Joy.
Originally published in Asian Traditions/Modern Expressions: Asian American Artists and Abstraction, 1945–1970. Reproduced by permission of the publisher.
With the Suddenness of Creation: Trends in Abstract Painting in Japan and China, 1945–1970
By Alexandra Munroe
“Whenever he [Wang Xia] wanted to paint a picture, he would first drink wine, and when he was sufficiently drunk, he spattered the ink onto the painting surface. Then, laughing and singing all the while, he would stamp on it with his feet and smear it with his hands, besides swashing and sweeping it with the brush… Responding to the movements of his hand and following his whims, he would bring forth clouds and mists, wash in wind and rain—all with the suddenness of creation.”[i]
—Tang dynasty scholar Zhu Jingxuan on the paintings of Wang Xia (active eighth century)
In 1947 art critic Clement Greenberg heralded America’s artistic “coming of age” when he identified Jackson Pollock as the “most powerful painter “in the United States.[ii] By rating the work of a contemporary American artist above modern European masters—many of whom had fled persecution and immigrated to the United States—his sentiments reflected America’s will to assert cultural leadership of the “free world” in the postwar era. As champion of Pollock and the burgeoning New York School, Greenberg further argued that “American-type painting” was superior to the more common terms, “abstract expressionism,” which alluded to its modern European roots, or “action painting,” which conjured its source in the gestural abstraction of East Asian calligraphy and ink painting. His refutation of the latter was absolute: