Dreams blend with reality like time warps in a collage of bathers, samurai, phallic symbols, milk-spurting breasts, waterfalls, ukiyoe prints and half-born babies in a voluminous retrospective of Tadanori Yokoo’s prolific career at Setagaya Museum.
Images jump from postwar Japan(schoolchildren, Mishima) to Hollywood (kissing blondes), then India and other faraway places as quickly and as unexpectedly as the workings of a genius artist’s mind.
In the same way, mediums keep shifting _ pasted photos, oils, silkscreen, Plexiglas.
The usual demarcations of history, geography, references and dimension are no longer relevant.
Even canvases get shredded.
Themes are repeated, over and over, as colors change from ocean-blue to reproductive red on towering canvases.
We enter Yokoo’s mind, stepping into a world of magic and mystery that is probably where we end up when we die and also where we were small and unknowing before we were born _ the primordial that lurks like a hallucinatory flash behind a mirror, or behind our own image in the mirror, hiding behind our backs, or caught around a corner or beneath the water’s surface or embedded inside a hidden wall:
Michelangelo is /blue dolphins jumping are /a couple dancing inside a skull is /a portrait of Pablo Picasso is /crossroads in the darkness getting shot by a film crew are /faces wearing sunglasses are /a photo of a cat’s face /is a screaming salivating woman who is posing at the same spot Mona Lisa was painted.
Things crumble like sand.
And that face or that thing from another century pops up in our consciousness as it always belonged there, as reminders of our finite lives and our connection to the eternal.
Almost 70, Yokoo is voraciously young, curious and evolving like a child.
He stands quiet, ever charming in a tux, his signature curly head held high, as he greets guests at the museum reception, surrounded by chattering dignitaries/celebrities.
What is refreshing is that he thinks big _ real big, on the scale of the Pyramids, grandeur of the galaxies, the insight of a divinity.
That same “bigness” is present in his physically small works, down to the tiniest pencil sketches.
Yokoo is big.
Yokoo is not timid.
And Yokoo is persistent.
One moment, you see a work from the 1960s, a fluorescent depiction of a woman in bondage, and you think: He is at his prime; he can’t possibly top this.
But then there’s another, and yet another, and yes, another, from the 1990s, maybe just this year, all equally strong and different, yet retaining the voice that is so defiantly Yokoo.
I interviewed Yokoo when I was a reporter at The Japan Times.
I went to his studio filled with knickknacks from all over the world _ figures and artifacts.
What’s this? What’s that?
Everything looked like art in his studio. I was probably picking up ashtrays with wonderment.
Why do you keep asking what is this? what is this? he said with a smile.
Yokoo later told me he enjoyed my articles.
You don’t know anything about art, he said, but you write what you feel, and that’s what I want my works to evoke in people.
It’s a nice thing to say to a writer.
As I leave the museum, I return to the world, suddenly equipped with a new eye.
Everything looks different as though the objects are part of Yokoo’s paintings, just making cameo appearances in the landscape before me, to remind me that everything is as much salvation as it is illusion.