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FB20201_Yokoo_See You Again.jpg

Tadanori Yokoo [Japanese, b. 1936] See You Again, 2002 Signed YYY + H on recto, dated 2002 and inscribed 7.3 on verso Painting on canvas 71.57 x 89.49 inches 181.8 x 227.3 cm

Tadanori Yokoo: All or Nothing at albertz benda

By Jonathan Goodman, February 9, 2024

Born in 1936, Tadanori Yokoo is a well-known graphic designer, printmaker, and painter whose current exhibition at albertz benda, “All or Nothing,” offers a glimpse into the Japanese icon’s 60 year long artistic practice. In this small, but well-chosen exhibition of individual works, Yokoo often creates a mix of images that can remind one of a jigsaw puzzle whose individual parts are set in ways that align with each other in a seamless fashion. His paintings feature disparate imagery such as city streets, Japanese movie stars, and architecture that reflect urban life derived from a period generations ago. The paintings are hard-edged and reflect a thematic urgency that speaks to the painter’s active life in the art world in the second half of the 20th century. An aura of psychedelic disjointedness runs from one painting to the next which, when coupled with the artist’s extreme technical skill, makes for memorable art.

In a 1988 painting entitled “All or Nothing, That Is All You Wanted,” Yokoo sets up a complicated visual structure consisting of broad strips, two of which cross each other forming an “X” in the middle of the composition. Other strips, placed this way and that, depict imagery that is hard to make sense of; some display simple figures, yet others suggest a natural habitat. The physical construction of space is key in this painting, in which intricacies are built on the physical interaction of the bands.

A more recent painting, “Boys, Be Nonsensical” (2006), shows a dark red background with various buildings, along with hieroglyphs on the right, and small figures in the area to the left. Near the top of the painting, one finds a spray of lavender-colored splotches, mostly in the form of dots. The intuitive drive of the painting has to do with random assertion, which does not yield easily to any quick interpretation. These paintings seem familiar, but hang from a thin line, not promising much in the sense of a presentation available to all despite the nature of much of the imagery. 

The painting “See You Again” (2002) is composed of a young, attractive Japanese actress from the middle of the last century, balanced both in color and significance by a curving alley indicative of the way Japan was built at the time. The colors of the street view – red and yellow, primarily – lend a luminescent, nearly neon aura, creating an imagined atmosphere. Yokoo is excellent in depicting an ambiance where emotions are suggested rather than stated.

The last painting to be discussed, “Only 3.5 Centimeters Away” (2015), consists of two women in swim caps, light red on the left and blue on the right, appearing as though they may collide head on during their swim. Their faces are expressionless yet simultaneously exert effort, while their perfectly round mouths mock human anatomy.  As much a poster as it is a painting, the work reminds us of another time. Yokoo generates a sense of how time works by treading on nostalgia, pushing it to the limit. He accomplishes this through odd shifts in imagery and irony of a deliberately quaint historicism, with the feeling that anything can happen and will -- especially given our eccentric penchant for the unreal.

Time is the tacit element in this exhibition. Skill, too, becomes an important factor as Yokoo’s craft requires him to make multiple versions of a subject and his points of view to work together. His realism is determined by the past, but also looks ahead to the future.  The paintings become a palimpsest of Yokoo’s interests, which move from maintaining motivational concepts to a deep interest in how paintings work together to view an unknown future. The ability of how the works thus instruct and lead us forward, even as the past is used to jump ahead to the future, is yet beyond our knowledge.


Jonathan Goodman,  has long written about the art scene of New York. His primary area of expertise lies in East Asian art, with a notable emphasis on fostering collaborations and deep engagements with Japanese artists. His published appear in XIBT Magazine, frontera digital, Brooklyn Rail, WhiteHot Magazine, Tussle Magazine, Arte Fuse, and his interviews are featured in Sculpture Magazine.

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