Whitehot Magazine

The New Space of Tadaaki Kuwayama

Tadaaki Kuwayama, TK36235_8-11, 2011, installation shot from Gary Snyder Gallery.

By ROBERT C. MORGAN October 13, 2023

It is curious the way artists come to meet one another in the New York art world. This is often true in the context of those from other countries and cultures seeking new perspectives on how to work, live, and think. In the case of the Japanese artist Tadaaki Kuwayama, the contact came through Art OMI, an artists' residency program organized by Francis Greenberger, who sponsors the awards given to artists at The New Museum on an annual basis. My first impression of Kuwayama was how confident and how clearly he was able to pursue his work. His minimalistic and monochrome works were preeminently clear and his inner Eastern sensitivities were potently clear.  Throughout his career, Tadaaki Kuwayama (4 March 1932 – 18 August 2023) continued to develop his work in various mediums and was often invited to show in major exhibitions both here and throughout Europe where his work resides in several important collections. 

Tadaaki Kuwayama, TK4611-10, 2010, installation shot from Kanazawa 21st Century Museum, currently at Kanazawa 21st Century Museum.

Over the years, Kuwayama’s idea of art evolved in a new direction. Working both as a sculptor and a painter, he gradually moved forward, focusing on a holistic point of view, working directly on both the wall and floor. In doing so, his independent pieces from his early career could be transformed into installation works, that finally gave necessary support to his later site-specific enterprise. 

Tadaaki Kuwayama, TK177/8-12, 2012, installation shot from Museum of Modern Art Kamakura & Hayama.

While Kuwayama’s work might apply directly to the wall, it may not function as easily in relation to the floor. Whereas the two-dimensionality of a framed object generally corresponds to the two-dimensional construct of the wall, the floor might function differently as a three-dimensional space wherein the location of objects is placed directly in terms of other matching objects taken from the mechanical world. In so doing the placement of the more or less unified three-dimensional objects plays a distinctive role whereby form and space become equal in relation to one another. 

Tadaaki Kuwayama, TK664-66,1966, currently at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Photo by Chris Burke

It was also significant for Kuwayama to accept the premise that not all works on walls are meant to function wholistically. Although he continued to carry his independence at the outset, the ongoing presence of his paintings on walls required they be done visibly in two dimensions. 

Tadaaki Kuwayama, TK182¾-69, 1969, acrylic on canvas, 54 3/4 × 54 3/4 in. Photo by Chris Burke.

In his related floor works, he places repetitive elements on the floor that require a visible presence focused on three-dimensional space. This tends to operate on a more open level than those placed directly on the wall.  These later works require a visible precision capable of transforming the function of space in a manner distinctly related to the pictorial aspects conceived in two-dimensions.

I have taken the opportunity to discuss Kuwayama’s late work because of its prominence and influence on the work of other artists. It is largely directed toward artists who have chosen to move their work beyond conventional practices of painting and sculpture. The work of Kuwayama cited in this essay should be understood as an important influence on this direction and on the contribution his work has made in recent years. Tadaaki Kuwayama is known for his participation in “The Third Mind” exhibition shown at the Guggenheim Museum in 2009. This being the case, Kuwayama should be given the necessary importance he ultimately deserves. He is an artist who has defined the connection between Eastern and Western modes of expressivity. His work is at the foundation of where the twenty-first century is defining itself.

Tadaaki Kuwayama (4 March 1932 – 18 August 2023) WM


Robert C. Morgan

Robert C. Morgan is an educator, art historian, critic, poet, and artist. Knowledgeable in the history and aesthetics of both Western and Asian art, Morgan has lectured widely, written hundreds of critical essays (translated into twenty languages), published monographs and books, and curated numerous exhibitions. He has written reviews for Art in AmericaArtsArt NewsArt Press(Paris), Sculpture MagazineThe Brooklyn Rail, and Hyperallergic. His catalog essays have been published by Gagosian, Pace, Sperone Westwater, Van Doren Waxter, White Cube (London), Kukje (Seoul), Malingue (Hong Kong), and Ink Studio (Beijing). Since 2010, he has been New York Editor for Asian Art News and World Sculpture News, both published in Hong Kong. He teaches in the Graduate Fine Arts Program  at Pratt Institute as an Adjunct Professor and at the School of Visual Arts.


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