Tadanori Yokoo: Pop Visionary

Internationally-renowned graphic artist and designer Tadanori Yokoo, who has been called “the grandmaster of Japanese pop-psych art,” got his start as a stage designer for avant garde theatre in Tokyo. It is no wonder why his eventual foray into poster design resulted in graphics that are unfailingly theatrical and dramatic—drawing on Psychedelia, mysticism, Pop culture and Japanese imagery.

 

Tadanori Yokoo at the MoMA

 
Tadanori Yokoo, Word Image, 1968.
Tadanori Yokoo, Word Image, 1968.
 

The Museum of Modern Art commissioned Yokoo to design the promotional image for their seminal 1968 exhibition of twentieth-century posters from the museum’s collection. The New York Times described the show as “a landmark presentation that helped define the medium for scholars, graphics specialists and collectors.” For this golden opportunity, he created Word Image, with no typography within the image to distract the viewer. Using mouths and one large eye he perfectly evokes the concept of “word” and “image.” He employs the rays of the rising sun, one of his favorite and recurring motifs, but here, makes the colors red, white and blue for America rather than the traditional Japanese red and white.

 

The Market for Tadanori Yokoo Posters

In our August 7, 2019 Vintage Posters auction, we sold a run of rare, hand-signed examples of Yokoo’s eccentric and whimsical designs—some both dark and humorous at the same time.

   
Tadanori Yokoo, Having Reached a Climax at the Age of 29, I Was Dead, 1965.
Tadanori Yokoo, Having Reached a Climax at the Age of 29, I Was Dead, 1965. Sold May 13, 2013, in Modernist Posters for $52,800, a record for the artist.
 
Tadanori Yokoo, Yukio Mishima, The Aesthetics of End, 1966.
Tadanori Yokoo, Yukio Mishima, The Aesthetics of End, 1966. Sold May 13, 2013, in Modernist Posters for $10,800.
 

Swann set an auction record for the artist in 2013 with a poster featuring the same blue and red sun rays, colorfully titled Having Reached a Climax at the Age of 29, I Was Dead, 1965, which sold for $52,800. Another Yokoo, The Aesthetics of the End, 1966, sold in the same auction for $10,800. Copies of both posters are currently in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

   

One of Yokoo’s earliest posters, is The City and Design, The Wonders of Life on Earth, 1966. This rare image promotes a book by Isamu Kurita, for which Yokoo also did the illustrations. Kurita wrote, “in considering illustration now, in its newer broader sense we can think of it as having the position within the sphere of design which adds finish to words, sounds and forms.” This “sensitive” design approach was perfectly suited to Yokoo’s style. The work is set to come to the auction block in our next Graphic Design poster auction estimated at $12,000 to $18,000.

   

Beyond Graphic Design

Tadanori Yokoo retired from graphic design in 1981 and began a new career as a painter and designer. In 2012 he donated much of his personal collection to the Yokoo Tadanori Museum of Contemporary Art (previously the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art) in Japan. Additionally, collaborates with designer Issey Miyake, maker of the popular Bao Bao bag.

 

Related Reading: On Buying a Vintage Poster: What You Need to Know