Tanaami Keiichi: Layers at Gallerie Aube

01Nov06

While Marié was doing a soundcheck with RF at Urban Guild, Akita and I went to Gallerie Aube to see Tanaami Keiichi’s latest exhibit, which was stellar. Tanaami’s avant-garde work includes animation, graphic design, painting, and poster design. His 1960s work, like Yokoo Tadanori’s, engages with a style of poster art known as ungurashibai. As Momus puts it:

Yokoo Tadanori and Keiichi Tanaami are the best-known exponents of the Japanese Ungurashibai poster style, closely tied to radical underground theatre and animation. In the late 60s and early 70s their work combined traditional Japanese imagery with psychedelia and radical politics. It’s sometimes referred to as Neo-Roman Baroque.

Tanaami’s newer work, however, seems like a radical departure from his 60s/70s output. His new work is altogether less “pop reference” and much more sexual-psychedelic dreamscape. While the color schemes are still straight out of ungurashibai, the actual images used seem to stem from an imaginative engagement with dreamwork, desire, and a kind of neo-psychedelic sex-pop mysticism. It actually reminds me somewhat of Kim Deitch’s more manic work (the offspring of a 70s underground comix aesthetic and a fascination with 20s/30s U.S. pop iconography), or of what 70s underground comix might have become had 80s Neo-Deco not smashed it all with its clean-line fist.

The exhibit itself consisted of walls and walls of posters (primarily from Tanaami’s newer period), as well as a glass case full of sketches and drawings, a few disturbing life-sized sculptures of images from his work, an incredible paper mobile that would embarrass Calder, some Tanaami-print clothing, and a room featuring his animation projected onto three walls. The poster for the show (featured at the top of this entry) is a photograph of one of four Tanaami sculptures featured in the exhibit. This particular sculpture — a red-dressed girl in pigtails who is either melting or has a face and body that is dripping blood and cum — was really disturbing with its combination of exaggerated ‘cute’ features and the horror (glory?) of bodily secretion. Oh — and it also had stumps for hands. As Akita said, “Kimochi warui” — “That makes me feel strange inside.” Which I think is precisely the point of Tanaami’s work — it’s so far outside of the normative parameters of vision that it forces you to contend with it: Dreamwork that you can’t ignore.

I’m not sure whether the work pictured above was featured in the Layers exhibition, but it is representative of Tanaami’s newer work: Strange fish-headed naked god-women; phallic and tentacular trees that grow out of vaginal fortune cookies; body parts coagulated into multi-colored ether beings; a dream sea and a spaced-out blue sky. According to a biographical sketch written for the Keiichi Tanaami-ism gallery show at the Ginza Graphic Gallery, in 1981 Tanaami

suffered from pleurisy and was hospitalized for three months, during which time he had hallucinations of pine trees. After his release from the hospital, he adopted an artistic style of expression in which he borrowed numerous Asian forms such as strange-looking pines, cranes and elephants, which he has fashioned into paintings, films and prints depicting the realms of memories and dreams.

Tanaami’s newer work certainly has a feverish, hallucinatory quality to it, but also a strangely religious quality — as if his prints were depictions of spiritual visions from a religion so heretical that’s its existence has to be submerged continuously in the unconscious for fear of social upheaval.

Akita and I also enjoyed Tanaami’s videos, a full-on aural and visual assault of sexual psychedelica, erotic fantasy, and pornographic excess. You can get some idea of the force of Tanaami’s sexual imagery from this image, borrowed from the Giant Robot store where you can purchase Tanaami’s book Blow Up.

The catalog available at the Layers exhibit is incredible and consists of 8 ‘volumes’ stitched together to form a single unit. I don’t know whether this book will become widely available outside of the context of the exhibition, but if you can get ahold of a copy, you surely should.

Click here to be taken to artloversnewyork.com, the original source for the Tanaami image above.

Tanaami’s work is often compared with that of Yokoo Tadanori, and it was somewhat of a coincidence that Akita, Marié, and I just happened to stumble into an exhibit of Tadanori’s posters that was being held concurrently with the Price Collection at the MOMAK. Tadanori’s work strikes me as far more politically motivated than Tanaami’s. While Tanaami rejects the establishment via the explosive power of transgressive erotic dreaming, Tadanori takes on establishment tropes directly and subverts them by making them ridiculous. In the poster above, for example, a young, hanging businessman is featured above the caption, “Having reached a climax at the age of 29, I was dead.” The poster is full of images that are associated with the postwar rebirth of Japan (the shinkansen, repeated twice), as well as symbols of Japanese culture in general. All of these symbols are made to look ridiculous when framed against the existential meaninglessness which leads to sexualized suicide. Mt. Fuji is erupting, playing on both the trope of ejaculation and the trope of social explosion, while the Japanese rising sun is reimagined in a Peter Max red and blue. This kind of work places Tadanori far more squarely in the realm of social critique, though both his and Tanaami’s work have a trajectory that can easily be traced back to the multiple tendencies of 1960s radicalism.

Click here for a fantastic gallery of Tadanori posters with commentary.

An article on Tadinori in Metropolis magazine.

The official Yokoo Tadanori homepage.



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