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First U.S. exhibition of leading avant-garde artist Kitasono Katue opens at LACMA
Kitasono Katue, Forgotten Man later published in Stereo Headphones no. 7, special edition, (1975), collection of John Solt. © Hashimoto Sumiko. Used with permission.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- The Los Angeles County Museum of Art presents the first U.S. exhibition of leading avant-garde artist of his generation in Japan, Kitasono Katue (Japan, 1902–1978). Kitasono Katue: Surrealist Poet highlights over eighty original photographs, paintings, and drawings, as well as many rare publications drawn from the collection of Los Angelesbased poet and scholar, John Solt. Among the works in the exhibition are all of Kitasono’s poetry collections, including his first, Album of Whiteness (1929). The exhibition, organized by Hollis Goodall, LACMA curator for Japanese Art, portrays Kitasono as a leading participant in visual as well as literary avant-garde movements during both pre- and post-war eras.

A pioneering avant-garde spirit, Kitasono made a priority of finding common ground with poets, artists, and writers in Europe and the Americas, from whom he initially sought stimulus to develop his early modes of poetry. First entranced by the modern art movements of Dadaism and Surrealism, he also thoroughly absorbed the ideas of Futurism, Cubism, and, in the postwar era, Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism. He would introduce elements of each into his poetic mode.

At the beginning of his career, Kitasono had hoped to be a painter, but immediately gained notice instead for his avant-garde poetry. His poems were often published in poetry and visual art journals for which he was the editor and head graphic designer. The longest-running such journal was called VOU.

In the mid-1950s, Kitasono began to produce Plastic Poetry—a photographic genre he invented—after being inspired by the Surrealist photography of regular contributors to VOU. Plastic Poems fit in a category more broadly referred to as visual poetry and was based on tabletop arrangements of various unrelated elements. Drawing on the underlying structure of his earlier conceptual word poems, Kitasono created simple imagery by mixing often antithetical fragments—crumpled French or English newsprint and a baguette, carton linings or Styrofoam with wire—frequently arranging these disparate bits against a clean, open space. The spaciousness of these Plastic Poems laid out with carefully juxtaposed detritus echoes his taste for minimal word poetry. For Kitasono, these photographic Plastic Poems served to replace textual poetry, especially in works intended for an international audience, though for Japanese journals he continued to write some word poetry as well.

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