This exhibition of drawings and small paintings by Genichiro Inokuma, created between 1955 and 1975, addresses the aspect of the Gallery 2 program that is engaged in presenting historical work with the intention of contextualizing current work. This particular presentation is timely in relation to present interests in works on paper as well as graphic imagery from Japan. All of the works exhibited were made when the artist lived in New York City and showed at the Willard Gallery.
Inokuma, 1902 – 1993, along with artists such as Kenzo Okada, Yayoi Kusama, Minoru Kawabata, and Atsuko Tanaka -- currently exhibiting at the Grey Art Gallery -- who showed extensively in the United States and Europe, synthesized the flat, decorative, and suggestive style of traditional Japanese painting with Western abstraction in ways which were recognized at the time as international, innovative, and influential. The earliest works exhibited, gouaches from 1956 and 1957, combine calligraphic elements on broad fields of color in ways which clearly relate to the work of Mark Tobey, who also showed at the Willard Gallery, and to Helen Frankenthaler. Both were influenced by Japanese art as demonstrated by their interest in abstraction, reduction and improvisation. Other figures influenced by Japanese art and Japanese artists in New York in the 1950s include Franz Kline, Sam Francis, John Cage and Merce Cunningham.
In the 1960s Inokuma began to paint works based on imagined aerial views of cities, reducing three dimensional topography to two dimensional patterns which at once suggest the energy and visual complexity of the urban fabric yet remain completely abstract. Many of the forms used to represent roads, buildings, and train tracks seem to derive from visual symbols used in contemporary printed Japanese maps, an early example of the interplay between painting and popular visual language and print media which is so important in contemporary Japanese work.
Of the last group of works in the exhibition, John Cannaday wrote in the New York Times, October 14, 1972: "The Cityscape is apparently an inexhaustible source of motifs for Mr. Inokuma, whose new abstract inventions are even more engaging than those in his previous shows…. Now his patterns seem to be based on transverse sections of sordid, neglected patches of urban earth such as the Jersey Meadows. The transmission into formal elegance is complete, and there are a half dozen small paintings – only six or eight inches across and not much higher – that are alone worth a visit to this excellent show."
Inokuma returned to Japan in 1975 for health reasons. He died childless and left the works in his collection to a museum bearing his name in his home town of Marugame. During his residence in New York he had ten one-person exhibitions at the Willard Gallery. His work was included in the Sao Paulo Biennal in 1959; exhibited at the ICA Boston, 1958; at the Carnegie Institute in 1958, 1964, and 1967; as well as at MoMA and the Guggenheim in 1965 and 1964 respectively. Work was purchased for both collections at that time.
The exhibition is organized in collaboration with Miani Johnson of the Willard Gallery and Joshua Mack.