Arakawa moved to New York in 1961 and enrolled in the Brooklyn Museum Art School. His relocation marks a clear break in his practice and he started making paintings utilizing lines, arrows and other marks to plot and foreground the surface of the canvas. Increasingly diagrammatic, images both found and drawn were included along with text and actual objects that opened up ideas about what constituted traditional ideas of depiction and picture making, so seeking to create a reflective and poetic space. Towards the end of the decade his paintings included texts that directly addressed the viewer inviting them to activate the work through their engagement.
In 1966 Arakawa had his solo exhibition with Dwan Gallery Los Angeles which traveled to Virginia Dwan’s new gallery in New York followed by addition solo exhibitions in Manhattan in 1967 and 1969 and numerous group exhibitions until its close in 1971 alongside other gallery artists including Robert Smithson, Carl Andre, Sol LeWitt, Charles Ross, Robert Morris and William Anastasi. In 1967 he had his first solo exhibition at Galleria Schwarz, Milan whose founder Arturo Schwarz was closely associated with Marcel Duchamp whom Arakawa had sort out and befriended on his arrival in New York.
In 1965 he had his first institutional show at the Württembergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart followed by the Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven (1966) and the Kunst und Museumsverein, Ausstellungssäle, Wuooertal-Barmen (1967).