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
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. www.tef.or.jp/mot
Photos ©Norihiro Ueno
and courtesy of the artist