The Incredible Posters of Tadanori Yokoo

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Yokoo Tadanori (also known as Tadanori Yokoo) is possibly the greatest major influence on contemporary poster design. But does the current generation of designers even know who he is? Here’s a primer: In the mid-60s, Yokoo rose to prominence through works such as Koshi-maki Osen and La Marie Vison. These works doubtless influenced the psychedelic style in the U.S. at the time. His posters are even more important in Japan because, rather than following foreign styles, they define a Modern Japanese graphic design aesthetic.

Now, thanks to Christopher Mount, who “mounted” an exhibition of the Russian poster masters, The Stenberg Brothers, in New York in 1997 at MoMA, there’s a major exhibition titled “The Complete Posters of Tadanori Yokoo” that opened on July 13th at the The National Museum of Art, Osaka. Mount wrote the main essay for the catalog, which includes more than 800 images, being published by Kokusho.

“This may be the last time this kind of extensive exhibition will be put together of his work,” Mount tells me. He adds: “He has the cultural status and following of a rock star or movie star in Japan. Yokoo is considered one of the great postwar cultural figures right along side Kurasawa, Mishima, Ono, Kusama, Ando or Miyake. I was surprised once when I met him for lunch at MoMA many years ago and a group of teenage Japanese tourists swarmed him for pictures and autographs. Everybody in Japan knows who he is. We don’t have graphic designers like that here in the U.S. My hope is that he can receive more of his proper due here in the U.S. and the West in the coming years.”

Yokoo’s creative life eventually expanded to include a wide range of fields such as painting and literature, but as he continued to produce design throughout his career, the poster remained at the core of his artistic output. “His work has a level of experimentation and personal expression impossible in most Westerners’ understanding of what graphic design can be,” Mount explains. “His work is a kind of contemporary and unrestricted version of the Ukiyo-ei. Thus, Yokoo is able to exceed in terms of creativity anything we expect posters to be.”

Is there a chance that a Yokoo exhibit will come to the U.S.? Mount has spoken with museums on the West Coast and hopes to have interest on the East Coast. “An exhibition of this sort could be particularly appealing with the recent popularity of artists such as Murakami and Nara, and the current fascination with Anime, Manga and popular Japanese culture. Yokoo is the progenitor and otherwise had such a strong influence on so much of this,” he notes.

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