Noriyuki Haraguchi, one of the most notable artists to come out of the postwar era in Japan, has died at 74. His death was reported on Thursday by his gallery Fergus McCaffrey, which has spaces in New York and Tokyo.
Haraguchi has been regarded as a key figure in his home country of Japan, where he is most often associated with a 1960s movement known as Mono-ha. With a name meaning “School of Things,” the movement harnessed industrial materials in the service of minimalist paintings, sculptures, and installations that shifted viewers’ perspectives on themselves and their surroundings.
Haraguchi’s best-known works utilized machine oil. His masterpiece, Oil Pool (1971), comprises oil in a low pool that serenely reflects its surroundings back at its viewer. A version of that work was shown at the 1977 edition of Documenta in Kassel, Germany, where Haraguchi became one of the first Asian artists ever to present work at the famed quinquennial, and it was later acquired by the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art in Iran. In 2017, the museum restored the work, which ranks among its most notable holdings.
In a joint statement, Tate Modern director Frances Morris and curator Sook-Kyung Lee said of Haraguchi, “His memorable large scale oil pool work, with its fluid reflective surface, was indicative of the complex conversation his work facilitated between raw and manufactured materials exploring notions of modernity, industrialization, and nature in works with a beguiling formal beauty.”
Haraguchi was born in 1946 in Yokosuka, Japan, where the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet was based. Early on, he was exposed to the aftermath of World War II. Engagement with the effects of war, as well as a fascination with different kinds of industry spurred by local businesses around Yokosuka, continued to permeate Haraguchi’s work. He once said he began to understand the “true nature of creativity” when he saw a warplane flying overhead as a kid.
During the 1960s, while he studying at Nihon University in Tokyo, anti–Vietnam War protests erupted in Japan and around the world. His work began to deal outright with conflict, and he began to exactingly recreate pieces of jet tails and warplanes as sculptures exhibited in galleries. (One is on long-term loan at Tate Modern in London.)
Around the same time, he also began making paintings that relied on polyurethane, a material more commonly found in hospitals and factories than in art. His paintings are stripped-down and abstract, with few shapes in their compositions.
Fergus McCaffrey, Haraguchi’s dealer, said in a statement, “I am confident that he will inspire future generations of creative souls to commit themselves to important art.”