Tokyo: You pay ¥1,500 for a ticket to an exhibition by an artist you’ve heard of, one you think you like, and when you get there all you can see are the backs of people’s heads—or, if you are a bit taller like me, the top half of the paintings. This would have been the experience of many visiting the recent Salvador Dali exhibition here.
Sometimes it almost seems like Tokyo is custom-made to turn people off art, but if you take a little trouble to research galleries and shows “beneath the radar” of the publicity machine that drives the big shows, you can find plenty of fascinating art—and I’m not talking about the weird avant-garde stuff that’ll bore you or simply make you scratch your head (fill in your own examples).
A case in point of the good stuff is the Tadanori Yokoo exhibition at Diesel Gallery in Shibuya. Diesel is a clothing brand that sells stylish, if—in my opinion—somewhat overpriced, clothes. But in a way I’m glad that they do, as the money from this probably pays for the cool exhibitions they put on in the shop’s gallery. These shows have an excellent track record of being edgy, engaging and uncrowded—the three big positives for me. The only drawback is that they may be a bit on the small side, but that can also be a positive as you fit it into your busy day.
The artist of the present exhibition has certain affinities with Dali in that he has a keen surrealist sense, although he is more correctly described as a Pop Artist, giving the show its name of “Tadanori Yokoo Pop Up Store.”
Art purists may take offense at the element of commercial synergy, with the show LARPing as a shop presentation, even displaying goods designed by the artist—including some ceramic items and a range of Japan-only limited bags. But this is perfectly in keeping with the ethos of Pop Art, which has always existed in uneasy symbiosis with commercial consumerism.
But the main focus of the show is a range of around 25 vivid Pop Art posters produced by Yokoo, who in this respect can claim to be the “Japanese Andy Warhol.” The big difference, however, is that Yokoo’s prints clearly have more personal and creative input than Warhol’s more insouciant work. They exist as eclectic collages of cultural and political phenomena of the day, all organized with a keen comedic and aesthetic sense. Stylistically, he is strongly influenced by the highly innovative poster art that was pioneered by Soviet Constructivist artists like the Stenberg brothers, via New York’s Push Pin Studios and the psychedelic 1960s.
My favorite was a strong anti-Vietnam War print, “Land of the Sleeping Giants.” This featured President Lyndon Johnson and seemed to both mock and defer to American power, encapsulating Japan’s complex relationship with its superpower protector.
Covering the period from the 1960s to the present, Yokoo’s posters also tap into a rich vein of nostalgia, with imagery and stylistic flourishes that evoke earlier ages. So, if you’re down in Shibuya, pop in, tune in and drop out. The exhibition runs until February 10.
Diesel Art Gallery, B1F, 1-23-16 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku. Shibuya. Tel: 03-6427-5955. 11:30am–9pm daily. www.diesel.co.jp/art