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Tadanori Yokoo Biography

Working across graphic design, printmaking, illustration, and painting, the subversive work of Japanese artist Tadanori Yokoo was instrumental in the development and dissemination of a new iconography for post-war Japan.

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Yokoo's artistic collaborations with artists and musicians including choreographer Hijikata Tatsumi, The Beatles, and Miles Davis, are recognised as having a profound influence on global pop culture.

Early Life

Yokoo was born in 1936 in Nishiwaki, Japan. Upon moving to Tokyo in 1960, the artist worked as a set and graphic designer for Japanese avant-garde theatre.

Yokoo's poster designs from his early Tokyo years were inspired by the use of motifs from Japanese printmaking in early Japanese packaging design, Chinese ornaments, and Victoriana. Yokoo's work gained particular recognition for presenting an alternative style to the dominant Bauhaus influenced post-war Japanese graphic design of the time.

Yokoo's success from his graphic works led him to join the Japanese Advertising Artists Club in his early twenties. By the mid-1960s, he was considered one of the country's rising creative stars, using collage styles and bold imagery to challenge the state of politics, society, and design.

Tadanori Yokoo Posters and Prints

Appropriating and integrating both western and traditional Japanese symbols, Yokoo's poster designs pioneered the development and dissemination of a new iconography for post-war Japan. His early screenprints reflect influences from ukiyo-e (traditional Japanese woodblock prints), surrealism, and pop art, and often contained overtly sexual content.

The infamous screenprint Tadanori Yokoo (1965) depicts the artist hung by a noose and is captioned with the statement, 'Made in Japan/Having reached a climax at the age of 29, I was dead'. Nationalistic symbols are incorporated in the poster design: the rising sun, the Shinkansen, the nuclear bomb, and Mount Fuji. While Yokoo has explained the work as representing his own break from the past, Tadanori Yokoo can also be interpreted as criticising the influence of western modernism on Japanese culture during a period of rapid economic growth.

Collaborations

Yokoo collaborated with many performance artists and collectives throughout his career, and worked frequently with choreographer Tatsumi Hijikata. Yokoo has cited writer Yukio Mishima and filmmaker Akira Kurosawa as two important early influences in his work,

One of Yokoo's best known works, À la Maison de M. Civeçawa (The Rose-Coloured Dance) (1965) is a silkscreened poster designed for a performance by Tatsumi Hijikata's Ankoku Butoh dance company. Combining sexual, political, and historical Japanese and western references, the poster includes collaged photographs of Hijikata, novelist Tatsuhiko Shibusawa, and Butoh dancer Kazuo Ohno, and visual reference to the famous unattributed painting Gabrielle d'Estrées and one of her sisters (c. 1594).

Tadanori Album Covers

Yokoo collaborated with musicians, to design record covers and concert posters, including for Japanese stars, such as Toshi Ichiyanagi, as well as Western icons such as The Beatles, and Cat Stevens.

Tadanori Yokoo: Complete Book Designs

The anthology Tadanori Yokoo: Complete Book Designs, 1957-2012 was published in 2013. Cataloguing the artist's book cover designs—including commissions for photographer David LaChapelle—it is the most comprehensive written survey on this line of Yokoo's practice.

Tadanori Yokoo Paintings

Yokoo began working in paint in the 1960s. In 1981, he retired from commercial work to focus on painting, and presented a solo exhibition of large canvas paintings at Nantenshi Gallery in Tokyo in 1982. The paintings were executed in crude brushstrokes, depicting such things as a scene from an old movie, the rock group Bow Wow Wow, his son, and himself.

Tadanori Yokoo continues to exhibit in galleries and museums to this day.

Exhibitions and Awards

Yokoo has received numerous awards over his career, and has participated in significant exhibitions including Word and Image: Posters and Typography from the Graphic Design Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, 1879—1967, New York (1968); the 45th Venice Biennale (1993); the 5th Warsaw International Poster Biennale, where he won the Gold Prize (1974); and the 4th ASIA Art Biennale in Bangladesh (1989).

Selected solo exhibitions include Yokoo Tadanori: The Artists, Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, Tokyo (2021); B29 and Homeland—From My Childhood to Andy Warhol, SCAI The Bathhouse, Tokyo (2019); Tadanori Yokoo: Death and Dreams, albertz benda, New York (2018); The State Museum of Oriental Art, Moscow (2016); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1974); Graphics by Tadanori Yokoo, Museum of Modern Art, New York (1972).

Selected group exhibitions include Catastrophe and the Power of Art, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2018); New Wave: Japanese Contemporary Art of the 1980s, The National Museum of Art, Osaka (2018); A Beautiful Elsewhere, Power Station of Art, Shanghai (2018); The World Goes Pop, Tate Modern, London (2015); International Pop, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2015); Collection Becoming, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (2015).

Collections

Tadanori Yokoo's work is held in collections worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art; Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Yokoo Tadanori Museum of Contemporary Art, Kobe; and the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York, among others.

Sarah Foreman | Ocula | 2021

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