Japanese poster exhibition an eclectic mix

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 November, 2014, 4:33pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 November, 2014, 4:33pm

Don't go looking for any blizzards of blossom or visual vows of self-discipline at the Japanese Poster Artists - Cherry Blossom and Asceticism exhibition at the Hong Kong Design Institute (HKDI) in Tseung Kwan O.

Don't search either for woodblock-rendered tsunami scenes, or delicately depicted fisherfolk crossing flimsy bridges under starry skies. You're in the wrong century for all that.

Instead, at this exhibition mounted in conjunction with Zurich's Museum of Design, steel yourself for blasts of widely divergent styles of poster art rendered with wit, defiance, bravado and humour.

Under the auspices of Rubie Lee, assistant curatorial project officer, and Queenie Lau, curator at HKDI's external affairs office, the meaning and significance of certain symbols are revealed during a preview.

The 200-plus posters on show are copies of the originals, which remain in the Zurich collection, but that hardly dilutes the exhibition's impact.

"The posters were reproduced in Hong Kong, under the direction of the Museum of Design, on high-quality Epson enhanced matt paper, and we'll keep them after the event," says Lau. "We're a design school, not a museum, so what matters is the content of the exhibition, as well as teaching and learning and educating the general public."

The exhibition occupies 14 zones based on themes and creative styles, and takes in works dating from the 1950s, produced for sporting spectaculars, films, commercial products, cultural events and even department-store bargains. Highlights are posters by master graphic designers Ikko Tanaka, Shigeo Fukuda and Kazumasa Nagai.

"The earliest zone takes us back to the modern era, when minimalism became important in Japanese poster design," says Lee. "Artists were using simple lines and strong colours to illustrate their ideas. Later, geometric forms became popular," she adds, showing an instantly recognisable poster for the Tokyo Olympics of 1964.

"In this case the familiar, big red circle is a metaphor for energy and passion, but there's also a flavour of national pride.

"Transparency and light are also very important to Japanese graphic designers," Lee continues, moving into the section of the same name, in which luminous colours, and shades of white, radiate from works by Mitsuo Katsui, Shin Matsunaga and Koichi Sato, among others.

Then, in a zone of seemingly strident provocation, we come to the works of the internationally lionised Tadanori Yokoo, all gleeful colour and anti-war - and even a little Sgt Pepper and Monty Python, not least in the gruesomely amusing Having Reached a Climax at the Age of 29, I was Dead.

The fecundity of Japanese visual media is irresistible - and more traditional iconography is also acknowledged. Stopping at a Tanaka poster using a geisha-like figure to advertise performing art nihon buyo in the United States, Lee marvels at how its geometric forms convey the message so elegantly. Adjacent to it is the Tanaka creation The 200th Anniversary of Sharaku, an homage to the celebrated Edo-period artist. In Tanaka, Japanese pictorial tradition bashes headlong into Bauhaus.

Lose yourself in this singular exhibition and you quickly realise that all else is, however fleetingly, inconsequential.

Japanese Poster Artists - Cherry Blossom and Asceticism, d-mart gallery, HKDI, 3 King Ling Road, Tseung Kwan O, until March 30, 2015, free. Tel: 3928 2566