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Radical neutrality, as described by art historian Michio Hayashi, is the core of Tadaaki Kuwayama and Rakuko Naito's latest exhibition. The husband-and-wife duo, both of whom studied at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music before emigrating to New York in 1958, have been working together for an awe-inspiring six decades, settling briefly this month at The Mayor Gallery.

© The Mayor Gallery

Kuwayama's most representative work from the mid-1960s comprises four equivalent squares, each framed by aluminum strips and bordered by thin black lines. This structure has no top or bottom, creating a work that is free of composition. It challenges viewers to abandon their conventional ideas about aesthetics and forces them to reckon with the neutrality of the painting. But it's not just the absence of composition that makes Kuwayama's works so impressive. He uses industrial effects in his work, using spray guns and mixing his own pigments to carefully build his paintings. The end result is an experience that is completely different from viewing conventional paintings and will leave you pondering the meaning of neutrality long after you've left the exhibition. Kuwayama's works have been reviewed by many, including Donald Judd, who was then a young critic with Arts magazine until 1964. However, unlike traditional Minimalists, who were not reluctant to employ commercially available fluorescent lights or industrial paints, Kuwayama acquires industrial effects in his work by using spray guns and mixing his own pigments, carefully building his work. In this respect, Kuwayama's work aligns with his generation of European artists, such as the German Zero artist Otto Piene and his collaborator Yves Klein. These artists sought new materials and methods to offer "an experience that is completely different from viewing conventional paintings" that could liberate the ideas and senses of their onlookers.

Naito's work is just as impressive, experimenting with traditional Japanese papers to create assemblages that are a modern combination of drawing and sculpture. Her work plays with order and structure, strength and vulnerability, and allows the organic and imperfect forms of the natural material to take center stage. Her dedication to extreme restraint, evident in her avoidance of human narrative and refusal to use titles, is commendable and only adds to the power of her work. The connection between the two artists' works is both overt and inadvertent. It's a remarkable exhibition, one that showcases the best of minimalism and perceived neutrality and demonstrates why Tadaaki Kuwayama and Rakuko Naito have become legends in the art world.


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