Born in 1932 in Nagoya, Japan, Kuwayama graduated from the Japanese Painting course at Tokyo University of the Arts where he found himself uninterested in the both the strict and traditional apprentice nihonga [ Japanese painting ] system and the contemporary Japanese art scene in Japan of the time. In 1958, along with his young wife, the painter Rakuko Naito he moved to New York, where he has been living and working ever since. After his solo exhibition at Green Gallery, the prominent vanguard gallery of the day, run by the eccentric art dealer Richard Bellamy, in 1961, Kuwayama began making monochromatic acrylic paintings in geometric forms and pioneered the American Minimalist movement in the 1960s and 1970s. The artist turned his back on the abstract, and gestural based, painting style of the era and alongside other young artists of his generation began to pursue another style of “pure abstract” painting style. The then an art critic, Donald Judd, was an early advocate of Kuwayama and followed his early career noting his contribution to this emerging form and what would later be termed Minimalism.
Kuwayama’s oeuvre can be understood as spanning several periods, marked in part by his use in different materials. Until 1962, when he had his second solo exhibition in the U.S., he produced paintings using Japanese mineral pigments and acrylic solvent on boards wrapped in Japanese paper. After that and until about 1969, he used acrylic paint; in the 1970s, he used metallic paints; and in the 1980s, he painted in oil. Since the 1990s, he has made space itself his work. His globally acclaimed works, which are intended to be pure art and provide an immersive experience, display no subjective expression.
Kuwayama’s artistic journey has extended over half a century and is noteworthy for an unrelenting experimental spirit and a ferocity of art-making that continues to today.
His solo exhibitions include The Museum of Modern Art, Hayama (2012); The National Museum of Art, Osaka (2011); the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa (2011); the Nagoya City Art Museum (2010); the Rupertinum Museum, Salzburg (2000); the Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art, Sakura and the Chiba City Museum of Art (both 1996); the Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art, Fukuoka (1985). His works have also been shown in numerous group exhibitions including “Minimalism: Space. Light. Object. “the National Gallery Singapore (2018); “Surface, Support, Process: The 1960s Monochrome in the Guggenheim Collection,” the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2011); “The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860-1989,” the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2009); “Japanese Art After 1945: Scream Against the Sky,” the San Francisco Museum of Art (1995); “Vormen van de Kleur,” the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (1966-67). His works are also included in the collections of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; the Nationalgalerie, Berlin; the Foundation for Constructivist, Concrete and Conceptual Art, Zurich; The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; The National Museum of Art, Osaka and others.