Aoki Eiko: How would you characterize Kitasono’s
esthetic in a few words?

Hollis Goodall: It changes very much; it mixes
geometric and organic, sometimes tending more to
the geometric than the organic, sometimes more to
the organic. There is always a lot of white space.
He tends to use grayed-down tones very
selectively and then pure primary colors with equal
ease. The main thing that one could say about him
in a few words is that he takes a few selected
elements and has an incredibly precise sense of
balance using space with as much weight as the
elements themselves. It’s an esthetic with nothing
extraneous.

Aoki Eiko: Have you gotten any feedback from the
visitors of the exhibition?

Hollis Goodall: A wide range of members of our
staff have come over to look at it, which is
interesting because, like me, so many people on
our staff tend to miss exhibitions here thinking they
will make them eventually but don’t. But people
have made a point of getting over to see it and
they like the fact that it blends different media so
seamlessly between film and photography and the
graphic arts and the language. That’s the kind of
feedback that I’ve gotten, and also that the people
who are interested in graphics truly love his
graphic work.

Aoki Eiko: The title of the exhibition is “Kitasono
Katue: Surrealist Poet.” Do you think he is
correctly categorized as a Surrealist?

Hollis Goodall: That’s a really good question. I
think he started out as a Surrealist, and he kept
surrealist leanings. Later in his life, I think you
would probably categorize him, if you’d categorize
him, as a member of the avant-garde. His language
tended to be more surrealistic and his graphics
tended to be more avant-garde, particularly the
post-war material that is heavily favored in this
exhibition. We have these few from the pre-war
era, and I think they would all fall into the category
of surrealist. So I think his roots are in Surrealism.

Aoki Eiko: What was your process in going through
Kitasono’s visual and textual output to distill it to
what you have displayed?

Hollis Goodall: Well, oddly enough, I went through
it just to see what was visually exciting to me. After
that, I organized it into areas, and then I massaged
it to fit the areas and physical spaces. But the first
layer was what popped out at me.

Aoki Eiko: How long did this process take?

Hollis Goodall: A couple of months.

Aoki Eiko: Have you been working on this material
for one or two years?

Hollis Goodall: With the writing and the editing, it
would have been a couple of years.

Aoki Eiko: Has anything of your point of view
changed over the two years of your involvement
with the materials in the project? Have you had any
epiphanies or discovered any insights into his
work, or do you consider him as a kind of “open
book” from the start rather than as a mystery who
unravels with time?

Hollis Goodall: Well, I think he started out as a
mystery that unraveled, and I do think there have
been some eye-opening things, some of the
discoveries came while talking with other people
about his work—particularly with the graphic
designers. You know, the fact that the colors are
not seen in the West. There has been a lot of
influence from Japanese graphics in the United
States, I think since the 1970s. People found these
things so exciting and why, and what it is about
modern American graphics that they need to break
the mold to look at Kitasono’s material. That was
one thing I found exciting. The whole thing that I
talked about earlier—the connection between his
visual material and his words, his word poems—I
think is something that has hit me even since the
show has been on the walls, and seems to be
coming more clear with looking and relooking at his
material.

Aoki Eiko: It seems that even though he worked in
many different media and inter-media, there is a
certain consistent thread in his esthetic that does
not seem to conflict and contrast. No matter what
genre or media he goes into, he seems to be
something similar.

Hollis Goodall: Yes, a lot of artists will leap from
one problem to another problem, and you’ll see an
element that they particularly like that is a part of
their vocabulary, that will come out again and
again in different forms. But there is a consistency
in Kitasono that has to do with space. And in the
pictures that are very crowded, like “Forgotten
Man,” where he has strips of paper in the human
form against a crumpled up paper background, by
contrast to everything else, they feel very
claustrophobic, so it seems that is what he is trying
to express.
Also, in his early Plastic Poems it seems that he
uses a grid frequently, and in one place there will
be an eye, and in other places there will be
crumpled up bits of paper, other forms like a piece
of wire and something like that. Possibly in those
early works he was looking for some kind of
organizing principle.

Aoki Eiko: His work on the covers of VOU
magazine needed grids in order to put in the
information of what issue number, what month. He
found the grid—or pigeon holes—as a good
system to fill in that information. And then he would
use it without that info as a pure Plastic Poem
design. And that might be related to some of the
table photography that started with the Bicycle
Guide. Interestingly, his commercial work with the
bicycle parts came first, and his composing and
photographing of them became a model of table
photography that evolved into his Plastic Poetry.
Well, maybe this leads into another question or
there is no question… Kitasono Katue had two
international peaks in his lifetime, from 1938 when
he was introduced as a significant poet by Ezra
Pound, and from 1958 when his Concrete poem
“Monotonous Space” (1958) helped solidify the
East-Asian penetration of the global movement.
The first was purely textual and required English
translation or writing of his poems to be
understood. The second also was textually based,
but purposely simple with a will to visualization.
Now a third wave is occurring in Japan and Los
Angeles with the museum showings of Kitasono’s
work. The difference is this time the visuality—
graphic and photographic—is outpacing the textual
poetry aspect and coming to the fore.

Hollis Goodall: I think that is a function of where it
is being shown. I think if it were shown in a library
environment, there would be much more
concentration on the language.

Aoki Eiko: That’s true, but that he’s reached the
museum level is also interesting because most
poets don’t. Maybe you’ve answered the question
before I got to it!

Hollis Goodall: (laughing) Sorry!

Aoki Eiko: Being a crucial part of this third wave,
how do you see the text to visual aspects of his
work and how they flow together or don’t. I noticed,
for example, that you put stanzas of his poems on
the walls; one is appropriately about “shadows on
a wall,” which I thought was a brilliant choice. Are
you trying to show something about the visuality of
the words (despite them being in English
translation)…

Hollis Goodall: No, but that is a good idea.

Aoki Eiko: …as art equal to graphic and
photographic design, or is it more to show that
Kitasono was primarily a poet playing with
language, or both?

Hollis Goodall: I think it was more about him not
just playing with language but playing with image.
When you juxtapose these different words and
images against each other your mind necessarily
struggles to create some kind of a new image. I
think that happens also when you’re looking at his
Plastic Poetry. If you look at something that is cut
into the shape of a human, your mind—just as if it
had been directed by words—says, “it must be
human.” Somehow Kitasono has such a talent for
cutting out a piece of paper and giving it energy,
because not all trash is created equal.
I think there are some people—mathematicians
and musicians amongst them—who have a
particular talent for spatial intelligence, and I think
he must have been one of those people. He “pre-
saw”; he didn’t just get there by playing, he pre-
saw some of the material.

Aoki Eiko: How many people were involved in an
exhibit like this, and what are some of their
specialties?

Hollis Goodall: Well, people float in and float out.
There were two to three conservators; five to
seven prep guys at any one time; the construction
guys—the cases were actually made by an outside
vendor, but our construction people had to add
weights to make them earthquake safe; the design
department, one main person was in charge of
design, and she had back-up from her boss; the
two people from our exhibitions department kept
floating through; security was in there, and then
graphics. Education did the arrangements for the
talks. The publications department did heavy
editing. And there was a signage person, who also
did the vinyl graphics. David in graphics also did
the banners (an outside vendor made them). And
of course the web people and audio-visual people
including the videographer were also a crucial part
of the large crowd. Afterwards, our photographer
documented the exhibition, and web masters built
our web page and web editors reviewed the text of
our blogs.

Aoki Eiko: It’s a huge teamwork effort with you as
the leader. While setting up the exhibit, I heard that
you had a table with a drawing of the exhibit
spaces on it, noting where everything should go for
everyone to work off. What happens to that
“blueprint” of the exhibit, does it go into the
museum’s archives?

Hollis Goodall: Well, I do keep a copy in my files.
But I don’t keep copies of every generation, and it
probably went through four generations before we
got to the final one. We laid the whole show out in
the conservation department lab, putting the actual
artworks on dummy cutouts of all the tabletops.
That way we could make sure about where
everything was going to fit, and still there were
some errors in the design, so we had to be nimble
in the gallery. I always get a lot out of working with
the prep people, because they’re mostly artists.
They do get stimulated and they’ll talk about how
they are excited by the work, and often they’ll give
me new ways of seeing it from an artist’s point of
view.
The exhibit took place on the Felix and Helen Juda galleries of the Los
Angeles County Museum of Art’s “Pavilion for Japanese Art” from
August 3-December 1, 2013. Aoki Eiko, a freelance arts-journalist,
traveled from Kyoto expressly to see and write about the exhibit, and
she was accorded a personal tour and interview by curator Hollis
Goodall.

Kitasono Katue (1902-1978) is regarded in Japan as a highly
innovative poet, graphic artist and photographer—an avant-garde
insurgent—who broke boundaries in all three genres over half a
century while simultaneously conducting boundary-crossover works
in each of them, all this with a thread of consistency running through
it that continues to offer new generations fresh jolts of stimulation.
For more about Kitasono at LACMA’s website, including short essays
by Aoki Eiko and curator Noda Naotoshi (Setagaya Museum of Art,
Tokyo), please see http://lacma.org/art/exhibition/kitasono-katue-
surrealist-poet. For Aoki’s article in Japanese on the exhibit, see her
blogspot, http://artthrob.exblog.jp/19026584/. Black and white plastic
poems reproduced here are from the 1960s until Kitasono's death in
1978 and were included in issues of VOU magazine, published here
with permission of Sumiko Hashimoto © 2014. Other photos: (1) One
of two rooms of the exhibit; photo by Lenny Lesser; (2) Designs in the
Bicycle Guide; photo by Peter Brenner ⓒ LACMA; (3 & 4) Photos by
Lenny Lesser; (5) Photo by Peter Brenner ⓒ LACMA; (6) Photo by
Lenny Lesser; (7) Photo by Aoki Eiko; (8) “Forgotten Man,” later
published in Stereo Headphones no. 7, special edition, 1975 © LACMA.
NOT ALL TRASH IS CREATED EQUAL

LACMA Exhibit “Kitasono Katue: Surrealist Poet”

Interview with Hollis Goodall, curator, by Aoki Eiko
Editor's note: Kitasono Katue first appeared in the pages
of Third Rail in issue no. 7, 1985, brought to my attention
by John Solt, who was then literally writing the book on
the Japanese dadaist poet and graphic artist. Third Rail
was the first to introduce Kitasono's poetry and visual
work in the US after he passed away in 1978 (he had
been published widely in the West prewar and before he
died, as well as in Europe and New Zealand after he
passed). Kitasono and the poets of the Vou group were
featured in Third Rail two issues later, with Kitasono’s
plastic poems and graphics from early issues of Vou
magazine, an underground of writers and artists cutting
across traditions and disciplines working with avant-
garde poetics and aesthetics. Among many compelling
aspects of his work, the counter-intuitive juxtapositions
of word and image he spliced into the ideational and
visual fields of his poems evoked the
modern aesthetic of
the time of Klee and Kandinksky, but with a zen twist
that takes it to a different place. A dissociative linking of
unrelated and incongruous objects performs the dadaist act
of deflating hierarchies and upending sequences of reason.
This man-bites-dog quality in the surprisingly absurdist
world of his art and poetry remained an object of fascination
since I first pasted his poems and images onto layout
boards. A full exhibit devoted to his graphic and
photographic work at LACMA was long overdue. Walking
slowly through the exhibit was like moving through
coexisting levels of visual and linguistic memory. The
freshness of Kitasono Katue’s nullification of meaning, even
on magazine covers and in other publications and
ephemera, opened up unknown possibilities of seeing and
knowing. Each concrete poem and graphic image was a
prise de conscience calling upon us to short circuit standard
tropes of meaning and take measure of reality in terms of
the unexpected.  -- Uri Hertz