The well-known avant-garde Japanese artist and writer Genpei Akasegawa has died in a Tokyo hospital on Sunday morning. The 77-year-old artist had been hospitalised on several occasions while battling illness for the last two years. The cause of death was blood poisoning – according to NHK.
Born in 1937 in Yokohama – during the 1950s and 1960s, the artist became involved within the Neo-Dada movement, along with fellow artists Ushio Shinohara, Shusaku Arakawa, and Masanobu Yoshimura. He formed the Hi-Red Centre with Jiro Takamatsu and Natsuyuki Nakanishi during this period, which was a group of artists that presented their works as a collective in Japan; they performed ‘happenings’ within the Hi-Red Centre.
In the 1970s he used the idea of Hyper-Art (chōgeijutsu), an ordinary but useless street object that happened to look like a conceptual artwork. He called such things Thomassons, (named after Yomiuri Giants outfielder Gary Thomasson) and published photographs of them first within the magazine Shashin Jidai and later within books.
As “Katsuhiko Otsuji,” he received the Akutagawa Prize in 1981 for his short story, “Chichi ga kieta”. In fact the artist is known for many humorous essays, and his 1998 book Rōjinryoku was a major hit in Japan.
But Akasegawa only become widely recognised in Japan after what has become known as the ‘1000-yen Note Incident’. The artist had printed several hundred single-sided images that resembled 1000-yen bills. The artist did this in 1963, and mailed them in the Japanese post office’s cash envelopes as invitations to his Tokyo exhibition in that year. The artist went on to create more of the fake currency, at times burning some in performances and using others to wrap objects and create sculptural works of art.
Then in 1964 the police launched a criminal investigation against Akasegawa, and the Japanese public suddenly became aware of the artist. The subsequent trial was a highly publicised event that found Akasegawa guilty of counterfeiting currency- and the artist served several months in jail – even though it was obvious that the bills were one-sided and completely unusable. After two appeals the artist served several months in jail.