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Kazuo Shiraga, the Japanese artist who threw himself into abstract painting

2 min read  ·  13 Jun 2023

Kazuo Shiraga, Kayo (1992). Copyright the artist’s estate. Courtesy of Fergus McCaffrey

Kazuo Shiraga, Kayo (1992). Copyright the artist’s estate. Courtesy of Fergus McCaffrey

The Japanese artist Kazuo Shiraga, who created energetic abstract works while suspended from a pole, is on the HENI News radar.

Shiraga’s HENI Score—a unique artist sentiment—has risen an impressive 119% after a string of sales above or on estimate totaling more than $7m in the past six months.

At Art Basel Hong Kong in 2023 one of Shiraga's paintings from 1991 was a talking point. It was reportedly sold for $5m by Fergus McCaffrey, the New York- and Tokyo-based gallery that represents the artist’s estate.

His paintings have also been sold by other galleries, including Axel Vervoordt of Antwerp, Der-Horng Art Gallery, Taiwan, Aki Gallery, Yamaguchi and Upsilon Gallery, New York, London and Miami.

Shiraga's works have been on offer in a wide price range, from screen prints at less than $1,000 to $5.13m, for Hoshōkai (Lop Nur) (1988), which sold at Christie's New York in May 2023, below its upper estimate.

Born in Japan in 1924, Shiraga co-founded the influential Zero Group in 1952 and in 1955 he joined the legendary collective Gutai. He first made his mark creating “performance paintings”, throwing himself at a mixture of clay and cement. These were followed by his colorful and energetic “foot paintings”. He created them suspended from a rope, using his feet to make dynamic abstract paintings in thick paint.

Kazuo Shiraga

Kazuo Shiraga

The artist, who died in 2008, first showed his work in New York in the 1950s but his reputation outside of Japan only grew after his death. It was boosted when his works were featured in “Tokyo 1955–1970: a New Avant-Garde,” at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2012–13; and “Gutai: Splendid Playground,” at New York's Guggenheim Museum, in 2013.

In 2017, the New York Times described Shiraga as “the art world’s rediscovery of the moment”. The Dallas-based collector Howard Rachofsky is a fan. Rachofsky’s large collection of works by Japanese avant-garde abstract artists includes paintings by Shiraga, the Times revealed.

The artist Anish Kapoor is another admirer, although his Shigara failed to sell for $1.9m at Sotheby’s in 2021, the Wall Street Journal’s Kelly Crow reported via Twitter.

In 2022, Fergus McCaffrey and Mnuchin Gallery co-organised a double-header “De Kooning / Shiraga”, which featured 11 canvases by the Japanese artist alongside eight works by his US contemporary Willem de Kooning.

To get a deeper understanding of Kazuo Shiraga’s career visit his HENI Dashboard; a unique graphical data tool illustrating an artist’s auction sales, shows, profiles, mentions and their HENI Score. You can search for any one of the 100,000 Artist Dashboards to quickly appreciate their trajectory as well as sharing via email, text and WhatsApp.