Yoshishige Saito Japanese, 1904-2001

Yoshishige Saito is recognised in his native Japan as one of the great abstract sculptors of the twentieth century.  His teachings during the 1960’s and early 1970’s at Tama Art University, Tokyo had a great influence on a generation of Japanese artists leading, importantly, to the development of the Mono-ha movement that emerged in Tokyo at this time and which has garnered international attention in recent years. Saito is considered of great significance to this pioneering art movement which included artists such as Lee Ufan, Nobuo Sekine, Katsuro Yoshida, Susumu Koshimizu, Koji Enokura, Kishio Suga, Noboru Takayama and Katsuhiko Narita. Instead of making representational artworks, these artists explored often basic materials and their properties by creating simple arrangements with minimal artistic intervention.


Saito himself had been largely influenced by European and Russian art of the early twentieth century, especially the Russian Constructivists. By the 1930’s, he had started to make plywood relief sculptures. In keeping with Constructivist principals, he saw these works not as ‘a relationship between pictorial form and background’ but existing as objects in their own right. After the Second World War (during which most of Saito’s works were lost or destroyed), he began to incorporate large planks and discs of painted wood into his work. The results were larger scale sculptural installations, which Saito continued to make throughout his career, such as ‘Continuation 2’ (1987).


In 1957 Saito won the prestigious “New Artist’s Prize” in Japan, and this exposure lead to his later inclusion in the Venice and Sao Paulo Biennales. Saito was “a compelling figure in the historical relationship between European and Japanese modernism.” Saito has been exhibited widely in Japan, the US and across Europe; in 1978 The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, held a major survey of his work and in 1984 five museums in Japan jointly organised an exhibition spanning the artist’s career. His first show with Annely Juda Fine Art in London was in 1983.  His works are in important museum and public collections throughout the world.