Born in 1932 in Nagoya, Japan, Tadaaki Kuwayama graduated from the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music (1956), having studied nihonga, a traditional form of Japanese painting on paper or silk that uses naturally derived pigments and puts extreme emphasis on outlines and tonal modulation. Together with his wife, artist Rakuko Naito, he came to the United States in 1958, at roughly the same time as Japanese artists Yayoi Kusama and Yoko Ono. After settling in New York, Kuwayama eschewed both traditional Japanese painting and Abstract Expressionism, which dominated contemporary art, and instead experimented with highly reductive painting, producing canvases with brightly colored fields of paint in horizontal and vertical compositions, such as Untitled: red and blue(1961). In 1961, his first solo exhibition was held at Green Gallery, an uptown venue known for showing the work of the downtown avant-garde.
Through the 1960s, Kuwayama both refined his painting practice and began to explore three-dimensionality, creating painted wood-and-paper floor pieces and incorporating industrial materials into his work. By 1965, he had fully abandoned all nihonga techniques and began using spray-paint in an effort to make inscrutable works that were free from scratches and imperfections as well as any traces of the artist’s hand. A 1966 work, Untitled: brown, blue, gray, purple, beige, consists of five canvases painted with acrylic spray and divided horizontally and vertically by strips of aluminum. Using hardware-store materials in commercially available colors, they could be hung in any order and, at least theoretically, produced in an infinite number: the number of canvases made was determined by the amount of space available in the gallery. Kuwayama framed the work as a means of addressing a Minimalist interest in perceptual and spatial dimension while retaining the two-dimensionality of painting.
Since the 1960s Kuwayama’s work has continued to exhibit a subtle yet rigorous concern with perception as a quiet, spiritual experience, while relaxing the insistence on commercial materials and reintroducing media specific to the fine arts. Though still made from acrylic paint and aluminum strips, TK5182-3/4′75 (1975) incorporates metallic pigment and translucent layering to create a shimmering, continually changing surface. In the 1990s, Kuwayama began the ongoing series Projects, which comprise works of identical color and dimension, their installation determined by the light and architecture of the gallery space.
Kuwayama has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions at venues such as Green Gallery (1965, 1966); Tokyo Gallery (1967); Galerie Bischofberger, Zurich (1967); Museum Folkwang, Essen, West Germany (1974); Institute of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (1976); Akira Ikeda Gallery, Nagoya, Japan (1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1988); Nagoya City Art Museum (1989, 2006, 2010); Museum für Konkrete Kunst, Ingolstadt, Germany (1997); and National Museum of Art, Osaka (2011). His work has been presented in such group exhibitions as Systemic Painting, Guggenheim Museum (1966); Constructivism and the Geometric Tradition, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York (1979), which traveled to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1980), Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Institute (1981), and Kansas City’s Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (1981); and The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860–1989, Guggenheim Museum (2009). He won a National Endowment for the Arts grant (1969) and an Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation grant (1986). Kuwayama lives and works in New York.
Courtesy Guggenheim Collection on line