George Tsutakawa's fountain sculptures of the 1960s: fluidity and balance in postwar public art.




Cuthbert, Nancy Marie

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Between 1960 and 1992, American artist George Tsutakawa (1910 – 1997) created more than sixty fountain sculptures for publicly accessible sites in the U.S., Canada, and Japan. The vast majority were made by shaping sheet bronze into geometric and organically inspired abstract forms, often arranged around a vertical axis. Though postwar modernist artistic production and the issues it raises have been widely interrogated since the 1970s, and public art has been a major area of study since about 1980, Tsutakawa's fountains present a major intervention in North America's urban fabric that is not well-documented and remains almost completely untheorized. In addition to playing a key role in Seattle's development as an internationally recognized leader in public art, my dissertation argues that these works provide early evidence of a linked concern with nature and spirituality that has come to be understood as characteristic of the Pacific Northwest. Tsutakawa was born in Seattle, but raised and educated primarily in Japan prior to training as an artist at the University of Washington, then teaching in UW's Schools of Art and Architecture. His complicated personal history, which in World War II included being drafted into the U.S. army, while family members were interned and their property confiscated, led art historian Gervais Reed to declare that Tsutakawa was aligned with neither Japan nor America – that he and his art existed somewhere in-between. There is much truth in Reed's statement; however, artistically, such dualistic assessments deny the rich interplay of cultural allusions in Tsutakawa's fountains. Major inspirations included the Cubist sculpture of Alexander Archipenko, Himalayan stone cairns, Japanese heraldic emblems, First Nations carvings, and Bauhaus theory. Focusing on the early commissions, completed during the 1960s, my study examines the artist's debts to intercultural networks of artistic exchange – between North America, Asia, and Europe – operative in the early and mid-twentieth century, and in some cases before. I argue that, with his fountain sculptures, this Japanese American artist sought to integrate and balance such binaries as nature/culture, intuition/reason, and spiritual/material, which have long served to support the construction of East and West as opposed conceptual categories.



George Tsutakawa, American modernism, modern design, silicon bronze sculpture, welded sheet metal sculpture, West Coast modernism, Pacific Northwest, Seattle public art, Century 21, Fulton Mall, postwar shopping center design, Asian American art, World War II Japanese internment, Nisei, Kibei, machine aesthetic, abstract art, spirituality in art, Lawrence Halprin, environmentalism in art, International Style architecture, postwar urban planning, Ala Moana Center, Northgate Shopping Center, University of Washington School of Architecture, Zen in America, Bauhaus in America, Walter Gropius, Victor Gruen, Mark Tobey, Japanese American, Henry Moore, Sigfried Giedion, Lewis Mumford, Alexander Archipenko, Paul Horiuchi, Johsel Namkung, Dudley Carter, Freeway Park, Seattle, Bentall Centre, Vancouver, Seattle Public Library, secondary Orientalism, organicism in art, modernist architecture