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Kazuya Sakai (Argentinean, 1927-2001), Untitled, 1963, oil on canvas, signed

Kazuya Sakai (Argentinean, 1927-2001), Untitled, 1963, oil on canvas, signed

Item Description:

Oil on canvas, signed and dated lower center

A handsome example of Kazuya Sakai's early abstract expressionist period.


Appears fine. No apparent condition issues. Please contact for specific condition questions.


Height 19.13 in. x Width 15 in. (48.59cm x 38.10cm)

About The Artist:

The work of mid-century artist Kazuya Sakai defies categorization, both on ethnographic and stylistic grounds. Abstraction blossomed in Latin America during the post-war period, in large part due to the impetus of external cultural force of increased immigration. Sakai is both a part of this movement and distinct from it as an ethnically Japanese artist trained and formed by the artistic language of Buenos Aires. His oeuvre spans five decades and three continents, reflecting the varying aesthetic of the art world at crucial moments—from gestural expressionism to geometric and systemic abstraction.

Though born in Argentina in 1927, Sakai returned to Japan for school at a young age and went on to study philosophy and literature at the University of Waseda in Tokyo.(1) This background instilled in Sakai a love of Zen Buddhist philosophy and of traditional calligraphy, two forces that would heavily influence his later work. His strong cultural ties to Argentina, however, brought him back to Buenos Aires in 1951, where he would live and work for the next twelve years.

While in Buenos Aires, Sakai led several influential arts organizations, both specific to his Japanese heritage and relevant to the systemic art movement in general. Notable among his involvements are the New Art Association, established with Madí founder Carmelo Arden Quín, and the Institute for Argentine-Japanese Culture.(2)

This prominence in the artistic community was, no doubt, the cause for his inclusion in the 1960 exhibit, Fernandez, Muro, Grilo, Ocampo, Sakai, Testa, at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes as well his place at the Argentine pavilion at the 1962 Venice Biennial.(3) The prominent art critic Jorge Romero Brest curated the former exhibit, lending legitimacy to that moment in Latin art when, between the strict geometricism of concretism in the 1940s and the automatism of the 1960s, Argentine artists experimented in the painterly style of the abstract expressionists. (4)

At this time, Sakai's work drew heavily from both the New York school philosophies and the forms of Japanese calligraphy. Broad, sweeping strokes of black criss-cross on and beyond his paper collage canvases and are grounded by an earthy palette of oranges and browns, as shown in Forma (1962). (5) The twisting lines personify the qualities Sakai admired most in calligraphy--its ability to inform and express in a single stroke.(6)

Shortly after these seminal exhibitions, Sakai left Argentina, traveling to New York and finally settling in Mexico. His two years in New York would irrevocably alter the path of his career as he witnessed the emergence of new movements in minimalism and pop art and was exposed to what would become another great passion—free jazz. By the time he had settled in Mexico in 1965, all traces of expressionism had left his work and a new language had surfaced in its place. Large areas of flat, clearly delineated color snake across his canvases from this period, looping in neon spectrums of harmonious interaction in an attempt to visually re-create improvisation. His titles would often reference jazz, including homage to his favorite musician, Miles Davis.(7)

Despite this departure, the carefully defined movement of these canvases still echoes the sweeping calligraphic strokes of his earlier work, and many critics attribute the change more closely to further exploration of his Japanese heritage than to any new influence. While in Mexico, he conducted independent research and published his first book, Homenaje a Korin, on the famed Japanese Rinpa painter of the 17th century. Rinpa was a major school of Japanese decorative painting, highly influenced by the philosophies of Zen Buddhism and characterized by brilliantly colored abstractions of nature against a flat, gold-leafed background. When studied side-by-side, Korin's masterpiece Eight Bridges (1711) and Filles de Kilimanjaro III (Miles Davis) show a clear line of conscious connection. Sakai's publication of this text is integral to understanding his later work, as without it he is best known for promotion of Latin American art at the magazine Plural, at which he served as editor-in-chief and artistic director with Octavio Paz from 1970 to 1976.

With these dual courses of interest, Sakai again proved himself to be an artist transcendent of cultural barriers. His contributions to fine art, whether in his own oeuvre, criticism, promotion or research, make him an invaluable member of the mid-century Latin American school. He passed away in Texas in 2001 but has since been celebrated with retrospective exhibits at the Galeria Principium and the Centro Cultural Recoleta in Buenos Aires.

- Written and submitted by Maura Lucking


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Kazuya Sakai (Argentinean, 1927-2001), Untitled, 1963, oil on canvas, signed

Listed price: $4,500.00

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