The estate of Arakawa, the mononymous painter, sculptor, and proto-conceptualist who blurred boundaries so fully that even architecture and poetry could align in his work, is now represented by Gagosian Gallery. Early plans for the partnership will focus on photographing and cleaning decades’ worth of work held in storage by the artist, who died in 2010, at 73, with the aim of staging an initial show—likely centered on his painting, drawing, and printmaking—by 2018.
“It has been anthologized in museum collections and exhibitions,” Gagosian Gallery director Ealan Wingate told ARTnews of Arakawa’s work, “but our current time has not kept up with it.”
Peter Katz, the executive director of the artist’s Reversible Destiny Foundation, said the main aim is to position Arakawa as “an important international artist who hasn’t been seen very much since the ’90s.”
Arakawa began his expansive practice in Japan, where he came up amid the experimental ferment of the group Neo-Dadaism Organizers and others of a radical post-war ilk. He moved to New York in 1961 with support from a Rockefeller grant and proved crucial to the inception of conceptual art, with paintings that made a priority of diagrams and the written word as well as work invested in modes of perception.
Reviewing a show of his at Dwan Gallery in New York in ARTnews in 1966, Suzi Gablik wrote, “He literally seems to pivot his mind on the frontier of visibility and invisibility, presence and absence, the metaphysical and the material. His work vibrates with extrasensorial perceptions and eidetic charges, and the strange luminosity of dematerializing shapes implies things are happening which are not seen.”
Beyond fellow conceptual travelers such as Lawrence Weiner, Douglas Huebler, and Mel Bochner, Wingate suggested an additional lineage that might come as more of a surprise. “Looking at the work, I find a great kinship now with Cy Twombly,” Wingate said, connecting the two through “writing, scratching, lines that indicate velocity.” Of Arakawa’s use of language in his paintings, he said, “There were instructions and comments and thoughts to ponder. Looking at a painting was about reading the painting.”
The Reversible Destiny Foundation, which Arakawa founded with his wife Madeline Gins—an experimental writer and close collaborator (work of theirs often took both of their names)—holds close to 300 paintings as well as drawings and prints, in addition to work related to Arakawa’s just-as-formidable endeavors as an experimental architect. With their work as builders, Arakawa and Gins thought their structures could help people “learn how not to die”—hence the notion of “reversible destiny.”
Arakawa’s 2-D artworks will be the primary focus of the Gagosian collaboration. Chief among them is The Mechanism of Meaning (1963-1973), an 80-panel painting series that exists in two different versions, one at the Sezon Museum of Modern Art in Japan and the other in the holdings of the foundation. (Neither of the two is currently on view.) Reversible Destiny also has desires to bring out past writings and more eclectic work.
About the potential resonance for Arakawa’s work in the present, Wingate said, “Now we are looking at marvelous generations of artists who feel free to explore different ways of communicating through words, line, color, form, diagrams. It’s interesting to go back to a forerunner.”