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Tadanori Yokoo: Death and Dreams

albertz benda is thrilled to present a solo exhibition by Tadanori Yokoo, Death and Dreams, comprising three bodies of work that span the past 40 years of the acclaimed artist’s practice. On view from September 6 through October 13, the majority of the works in Death and Dreams are drawn from Yokoo’s recent exhibition at the Yokoo Tadanori Museum of Contemporary Art in Kobe, Japan, which is dedicated to the artist. They are shown now both for the first time outside Japan and in a private gallery.

Featuring the complete 1980 series Back of Head, the 2010 series Falling Woman, and the Mystery Woman series started in 2016, Death and Dreams examines the fascinating progression of the artist’s dialogue with portraiture, repetition, and appropriation of Japanese and Western popular culture over the course of four decades.

Creating series of unique motifs, the artist has developed his own visual language that he constantly references and reconfigures. He deliberately allows for the presence of the artist’s hand and slight imperfections from one image to the next in a series. The gaps and disparities that arise through the intervention of time and the nature of the medium of painting are central to Yokoo’s explorations of memory and consciousness.

Repetition is another defining characteristic of Yokoo’s oeuvre. Painted within one year, the Back of Head watercolors present a pivotal moment in Yokoo’s career during which he renounced commercial projects and devoted himself to painting. In this series, Yokoo paints the motif of a woman with her face turned away from the viewer, varying the overall color, hair texture, and background from one work to the next.

Revisiting the theme of the covered face three decades later, the Falling Woman works heighten the tension between revealing and obscuring – the female figures hold their dresses open to bare their breasts while faces remain covered by hair and fabric. The genesis of the confrontational naked female form and its iterations evolved from Yokoo’s childhood experience of being taken by his mother to the women’s section of the local communal hot baths. For the artist, the event was erotic, fearful and formative.

Juxtaposing familiar motifs rooted in his childhood and early 20th century European avant-garde painting techniques, the Mystery Woman portraits depict women resembling those found on the labels for Banshu-ori textiles and Harima matchboxes (products from Yokoo’s hometown), but with their faces concealed by seemingly random household items – a cabbage, a roll of paper towel, a hat. The playful yet unsettling mystery of his subjects recall the work of Francis Picabia and Marcel Duchamp, whom Yokoo cites as important influences throughout his career. The artist assembles a pastiche of cultural references and styles – allusions to advertising, kitschy nationalism, ukiyo-e and vintage Hollywood – that integrate personal and collective memories.

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