Tadanori Yokoo prepares to ‘move on’ in different ways

by Jeff Hammond and Jeff Michael Hammond

Special To The Japan Times

Tadanori Yokoo, bad boy of the Japanese art scene since the 1960s, is showing nine works, most of which were made within the last couple of years, at Scai The Bathhouse in the Yanaka district of Tokyo. The small exhibition, titled “Destination the Teshima Art House Project” serves to not only showcase these specific works but to also introduce plans for a new museum on the island of Teshima in the Seto Inland Sea of Kagawa Prefecture. The museum will be part of Benesse Art Site Naoshima, which is centered on the bigger island in the area, and will host a permanent exhibition of some of Yokoo’s works from spring next year.

A more modest enterprise than some of the large scale art venues also housed under the Benesse Art Site, the new museum (tentatively named the Teshima Art House) reflects the concept of “Living Well is Dying Well,” and it aims to redirect our thoughts on mortality in a more positive direction — to consider death not as a negative terminus to life but as a companion, forever present during our existence.

Architect Yuko Nagayama’s design for the museum reflects this through the inclusion of a small waterway — symbolic of the Sanzu River, the river the dead must cross on their way to the afterlife in Buddhist lore — running through the middle of the building.

Many of Yokoo’s recent works also address the issue of death, a topic that has surfaced in his art over many years. The central panel of the large three-section painting “The Primitive Universe” (2000) features some recurring Yokoo motifs, such as skulls and skeletons — in this case a whole pile of them — over which Takarazuka (Japanese all-female musical theater troupe) members show us their steps. The left panel depicts a man holding a skull, who is joined by two cranes, two turtles and a pine tree — all of which traditionally symbolize long life.

Aside from this painting, for which a central space is being laid out in the new museum, it is as yet undecided which works will also make the trip to Teshima. Of the contenders, many continue with some of Yokoo’s longstanding themes, including the cleansing power of water. Here, a collection of tourist postcards of waterfalls from around the world fill an entire wall, itself becoming a cascade of imagery. The exhibition closes with a few works that further explore his interest in the Y junction, where a road forks into two directions, with the eventual divergence of the paths of life and death being one possible interpretation.

“Tadanori Yokoo: Destination the Teshima Art House Project” at Scai The Bathhouse runs till Oct. 6; open Tue.- Sat noon-7 p.m. Free admission. Closed Sun. and Mon. www.scaithebathhouse.com.