Metamorphic Effects presents a focused selection of paintings and works on paper spanning the career of Matsumi Kanemitsu, an artist raised in Japan who lived and worked in the United States. Having enlisted in the Army soon before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Kanemitsu began his artistic career in military detention—using materials donated by the Red Cross to ink his first works. Following a stay in Europe during which he met and worked with artists like Fernand Leger and Pablo Picasso, Kanemitsu came of age in New York during the 1950’s—counting artists like Franz Kline, Ad Reinhardt, and Jackson Pollock as his contemporaries. After coming to Los Angeles in 1961 to explore lithography at the renowned Tamarind Workshop, Kanemitsu made a life in this city, holding a host of academic appointments and influencing a generation of Angeleno creatives.

Widely acknowledged as a gifted print maker, Kanemitsu was equally accomplished in other media. For the first time in nearly two decades, this exhibition brings together spheres of his oeuvre that are less known—paintings on canvas, sumi ink and watercolor drawings, and intimate figurative drawings. Many of these works are exhibited publicly for the very first time. Titled after a 1967 statement by the artist where he declared: I want personal marks. Surface variations. Cubist and Oriental calligraphic space… Metamorphic effects, this exhibition highlights the ideas around painting, alchemy, form, and cultural specificity that ground his practice. This presentation aims to reveal his mastery of the many media he explored and the multivalent moments of transformation, both grand and subtle, that define many of his works. Distinct bodies of drawings anchor this show. Shown alongside paintings from different periods of his life, Kanemitsu’s sumi ink and watercolor drawings and his intimate, erotic, and often politically charged figurative ones, function as dramatic studies of color, line, and form that point to an alternate formal lineage for his abstractions. At the same time, these never before exhibited works bring to the surface a psychological complexity and textured approach to materiality that echoes throughout Kanemitsu’s practice; serving as a timely critical reflection about the conditions of painting at this particular historical moment.

Matsumi Kanemitsu: Metamorphic Effects is organized by The Mistake Room and curated by Kris Kuramitsu, TMR Deputy Director and Senior Curator.



Matsumi Kanemitsu (1922-1992) studied sculpture with Karl Metzler in Baltimore, MD and painting with Fernand Leger in Paris before enrolling in the Art Student’s League in New York and studying with Yasuo Kuniyoshi, among others. Kanemitsu has been the subject of numerous institutional solo exhibitions, including exhibitions at The National Museum of Art, Osaka and Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art (1998), Yamaki Art Gallery, Osaka (1990), and Barnsdall Art Park, Los Angeles (1978) among others. He participated in the 1956 Whitney Annual at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; 14 Americans at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1962); and more recently, Asian/American/Modern Art: Shifting Currents, 1900-1970 at the de Young Museum, San Francisco (2008). Kanemitsu received numerous grants and fellowships, including awards from the Ford Foundation; the Longview Foundation; University of California at Berkeley; and the Honolulu Academy of Art. He taught at Chouinard Art School and Otis College of Art and Design, both in Los Angeles and Cal Arts in Valencia. His work is represented in public collections around the world, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Hiroshima State Museum of Art; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, among many others.

Special thanks to Nancy Uyemura.

Photo Credit: Peter Kirby. Copyright 2014. The Mistake Room Inc.