Kitasono Katue: Surrealist Poet

Pavilion for Japanese Art
August 3, 2013–December 1, 2013

Kitasono Katue (1902–1978) was the best known Japanese poet-artist in Europe and the US during the middle half of the 20th century. This is the first solo exhibit of his art outside Japan. Active from the mid-1920s as a pioneering avant-garde spirit, Kitasono made a priority of finding common ground with poets, artists and writers in Europe and the Americas. First entranced by Dadaism and Surrealism, he also thoroughly absorbed the ideas of Futurism, Cubism, Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism. His poems were often published in poetry and visual art journals, and he served as an editor and graphic designer for some of these, including the journal VOU, published from 1935 to 1940, and then again from 1945 until his death in 1978. Kitasono edited and designed more than 500 magazines and poetry books, and created numerous covers for novels, trade journals and commercial magazines. Plastic Poems, which fit in a category more broadly referred to as visual poetry, adorned many of his book covers; Kitasono began to produce Plastic Poetry after being inspired by the photographs done by members of the VOU group. In the last twelve years of his life, Kitasono continued to experiment with the limitless field of visual poetry, maintaining the clean form and finely conceived pairings of images seen in his earliest successful text poems.
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Image: Kitasono Katue, La Disparition d’Honoré Subrac (オノレ・シュウブラック氏の減形) (1960), gelatin silver print. Collection of John Solt. © Hashimoto Sumiko. Used with permission.

La Lunne Noire La Moustache en Cendres
Kitasono Katue
Forgotten Man later published in Stereo Headphones no. 7, special edition
Kitasono Katue
Tsukue journal (机), vol. 8, no. 2
Kitasono Katue
February 1957
VOU Magazine, number 114
Kitasono Katue
February 1968

Geometric Installation Mirrors Kitasono Katue’s Sensibility

During my two-week visit to L.A. in October, I had several opportunities to visit the Pavilion for Japanese Art at LACMA to see the exhibition Kitasono Katue: Surrealist Poet. What first struck me was the installation and presentation of the works of art in the two-room gallery. The display on each wall was well thought out to the finest detail, and some of Kitasono’s poems and drawings were arranged neatly on the white walls…

Reflections on Kitasono Katue: Surrealist Poet

It was a great pleasure to view the exciting LACMA exhibition Kitasono Katue: Surrealist Poet. In Japan, Kitasono Katue’s reputation as an artist, designer, and photographer has been rising exponentially in the past 10 years, despite the fact that the avant-gardist—who advocated for the amateur over the professional—was proud in the latter part of his life to pose as a minor poet. In 2010, I curated the Kitasono presentation of the exhibit, Hashimoto Heihachi and Kitasono Katue: Unusual Pair of Brothers, a Sculptor and a Poet