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Since the late 19th century, Japanese art has been schizophrenically split into yoga (Western-style) and nihonga (Japanese-style). The latter arose as a self-conscious response to the inroads of the former. Nevertheless, when nihonga took up the challenge of Western art, it was unable to avoid borrowing some of its ideas, most notably the romantically inflated concept of the “divine” artist. But instead of Michelangelo or van Gogh, nihonga found its role models in the elite artist/craftsmen of the Rinpa school. The Yamatane Museum of Art’s exhibition What Did Nihonga Learn from Rinpa? uses 50 mainly large works to look at echoes of the school in the works of 20th-century nihonga artists. Particularly worth seeing is Kaii Higashiyama’s vast seascape Rising Tide and Gyoshu Hayami’s Falling Camellias.

Through Dec 25. See exhibition listings (Ginza/ Kyobashi/ Tokyo) for details. CBL

Metropolis is offering readers ten free tickets to “What Did Nihonga Learn from Rinpa?” For your chance to see this excellent exhibition, email the following information by Wednesday, December 17, to

1. Name; 2. Address; 3. Age; 4. Home country; 5. Last exhibition you visited

Include the text “Nihonga” in the subject line. Winners will be selected at random.


449: Between Reality and Dreams: 19th Century British and French Art from the Winthrop Collection of the Fogg Art Museum
448: Quobo: Art in Berlin 1989-99
447: Scandinavian Landscape Painting in the 19th Century
446: Peter Bellars: Par for the Course
445: Doug Aitken: New Ocean
444: Andrea Zittel: A-Z Garments Series
443: Sebastiao Salgado: Exodus
442: Dumb Type: Voyages
441: Tadanori Yokoo: All Things in the Universe
440: Jean-Marc Bustamante: Private Crossing
439: Joan Miro : 1918-1945
438: Modern Paintings of Mongolia
437: Manit Sriwanichpoom: Bangkok in Pink
436: French Drawings from the British Museum: From Fontainebleau to Versailles
435: Muneteru Ujino: Japan Series
434: Photography Today 2: Site/Sight
433: Rirkrit Tiravanija and Raymond Pettibon
432: Three Young Artists from Korea
431: Dynastic Heritage of Korea
430: Seoul Pop
429: Dreams & Goals
428: Since Godzilla
427: Yoshihiro Suda + Tetsuya Nakamura: Un Monde Revé de la Main
426: GA Houses Project 2002
425: Sesshu: 500th Anniversary
424: Luis Barragan: The Quiet Revolution
423: The Mori Arts Center/Young Video Artists Initiative
422: The Adventures of Tintin
421: Session - Super Eccentric of Japan's Warring States Period
420: Jorge Pardo
419: Artists Without Borders
418: Dennis Hollingsworth
417: Masterworks from the Prado Museum
416: JAM: Tokyo-London
415: Digital Beauties
414: Arika Someya
413: MOMAT
412: NW House
411: Mariko Mori
410: Sonia Delaunay
409: Buckminster Fuller
408: Wusheng Wang
407: Tokyo Architecture #2
406: Tokyo Architecture #1
405: The Art Ahead
404: Table Manners
403: Tom Sanford at Tomoya Saito Gallery
402: Nambanga: An Anthology of World Manga
401: Masterworks from MoMA
400: Spencer Tunick: Nude Adrift

Issues 500+
Issues 499-
Issues 399-

By John McGee

Tadanori Yokoo: All Things in the Universe

Relation of Cause and Effect between Michelangelo and Hokusai, 1990, acrylic on canvas, 227.3x162.1cm

Tadanori Yokoo's paintings are like well-stocked but somewhat shabby antique stores-you could spend hours browsing through crammed displays of memorabilia hauled from his dusty cranial attics. Whether you end up with a treasure or a trinket, you will enjoy the looking.

This major retrospective of Yokoo, 66, follows exhibitions of his graphic work at Laforet Museum in 2000 and of new paintings at the Hara Museum in 2001. It also comes three years after his contemporary, Yayoi Kusama, was canonized with a retrospective at MoT. Constructing a clear family tree of Japanese contemporary art history has never been easy, but this show clearly dubs Yokoo as oji-Pop to Kusama's oba-abstraction.

Yokoo started in, and continues to practice, graphic design. Perhaps as a result, he's often regarded overseas as a designer rather than an artist. In Japan, such distinctions are usually less clear and less important. This show of nearly 400 works includes a few select ads but focuses on Yokoo's paintings, plus a smattering of video and sculptures, from 1965 to today. Nineteen different sections help identify general themes like "portraits" and "love and eroticism" as well as those uniquely Yokoo: "forest and flesh," "waterfalls," "Mishima," and "red."

DNF: Anya Kouro Traveler's Night, oil on canvas, 182x260cm, 2001

Yokoo primarily paints figures and landscapes. He collages, folds, overlays, and interweaves images from old movies, old Masters, and his UFO contacts. Goldie Hawn squeezing her nipple in a Mona Lisa wilderness, a sailor-suited schoolgirl with her hand in her blouse in front of the Imperial Palace-Yokoo's mid-'60s hippie funk, pink-nude-woman-in-landscape paintings are his most admired.

Even after Yokoo made his famous "painter's declaration" in 1981 (indicating his intention to make art), he continued to incorporate a variety of Japanese design methods, like bright ukiyo-e color, complex interlaced patterns, and overprinting. But he calls Francis Picabia his "father in art" and Western art history in general-from da Vinci to Duchamp-is a primary source for his later work. His paintings can be hilarious one-liners, like his twin homages to Henri Rousseau's The Sleeping Gypsy, which feature the normally sedate lion as predator and the gypsy as the meal.

Self Portrait, 1965, silkscreen on paper, 103x72.8cm

But sometimes humor and good intentions aren't enough. Yokoo is prolific, and many works are too fast and furious-loose paint, loose figures, loose concepts. To his credit, he wields obsession and whimsy with great energy. His waterfall postcard collection fills the walls and ceilings of one big room and psychedelic versions of animated Coors Beer waterfalls-"technamations"-fill another.

Yokoo's masterpiece of kitsch is a two-faced landscape sculpture crawling with action figures. The front is a three-dimensional scale-model of Rome's Trevi Fountain and Duke of Poli palace. An oversized woman reclines across the top of the cracking palace facade. Pachinko lights blink and Buddhist demons scramble over the rocks in front of Neptune riding a catfish.

In back, the palace dissolves into dripping stalactites and an electronic waterfall-a Romantic grotto as birth canal. Or is it a butsudan (household altar)? A dancing couple, mating dogs, digging archeologists, and Jesus-Yokoo's personal gods-perch atop stalagmites like little trophies.

Baroque churches awed parishioners with excessive ornamentation illustrating a cosmic order. Yokoo's weird concoction of gods, galaxies, sex, and celebrity is more personal, but no less dazzling. It's sure to win converts.

Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo
Until Oct 27. Kiba stn (Tozai line) or Kikukawa stn (Toei Shinjuku line). Miyoshi 4-1-1, Koto-ku. Tue-Sun 10am-6pm. Tel: 03-5245-4111. Adm: Adults ¥1,000, students ¥800, children and seniors ¥500.

Photos ©Norihiro Ueno and courtesy of the artist