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Style, innovation & equality

Japanese artist Atsuko Tanaka’s light bulb dress will glow your mind

Her charged artwork ”Electric Dress” is currently being shown at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm.

Words: Stefanie Ravelli

At the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, a large exhibition is currently being shown with the Japanese artist Atsuko Tanaka. An artist who, challenged the boundaries of art in post-war Japan.

Atsuko Tanaka, (born Feb. 10, 1932, Osaka, Japan—died Dec. 3, 2005, near Nara, Japan), was a leading avante-garde artist, best known for her experimental works of the 1950s and ’60s. Tanaka was an early member of Gutai, a radical group of Osaka-based artists founded in 1954. Many of Tanaka’s works involved electric light, the most famous of which, Electric Dress (1956), was made entirely of coloured light bulbs, cords, and fluorescent tubes that she wore as a dress during performances. The dress is an updated kimono, sought to highlight the leap from traditional Japanese society to one representing the bright lights of the modern world. The aim of the Gutai group was to break with the past and blur the boundaries between art and life in post-war Japan, seeking a new beginning in order to put the horrors behind.

She held her first solo exhibition in Osaka in 1963. The Museum of Modern Art in New York City featured some of Tanaka’s works in a 1966 exhibition entitled “The New Japanese Painting and Sculpture.” In later years she focused primarily on abstract paintings and drawings. Several retrospectives devoted to the work of Tanaka were held in Japan and the U.S. in the early 21st century.