Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Press Release

21_21 DESIGN SIGHT Exhibition
Ikko Tanaka and Future/Past/East/West of Design

Exhibition poster

Tokyo, Japan - 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT is pleased to announce the “Ikko Tanaka and Future/Past/East/West of Design” Exhibition starting 21 September 2012.

Ikko Tanaka (1930-2002), one of Japan’s most prominent figures in graphic design, was also an art director who focused on what he himself referred to as “the Future/Past/East/West of Design,” as in carrying on tradition, looking into the future, and exchanging with countries to the East and West. 

Tanaka with his deep knowledge of Japanese civic culture such as Rimpa, Ukiyoe, and other traditional performing arts, depicted these elements as visual expression in his modern creations to influence broad and expansive audiences of his generation from designers and business people to entire societies. Beyond graphics, the fruits of his artistic work in publishing and editorial design, gallery presentations, product planning, and point of view toward tea ceremony have established their place firmly in our society today.

This exhibition rooted in Future/Past/East/West of Design by Ikko Tanaka will provide a colorful look into how ideas expand and expressions find their landing space. We will study the vast numbers of works and documents left by the designer, positioning him as a promoter of visual expression unique to Japan, and introduce his work, mostly in the area of graphic design - the core of his artistic activities -along with original drawings, photographs, and other valuable archival materials. Through this, we will dive deeper into the life and work of Ikko Tanaka to explore how his ideas on design were executed and presented.

This exhibition which focuses on the creative life of Ikko Tanaka, a designer who lived gracefully through the turbulent post-war era, is filled with messages for today's society, and holds promise of becoming a guiding hope for the creations of tomorrow.

Ikko Tanaka (Photo by Yasuhiro Ishimoto)

“Design that makes us think of the regeneration of this wounded earth, rediscovery of non-Western civilizations, escape from continental styles, pull back from pleasure seeking ways, bare honest international exchange, collision of various ideas spawned by the awareness of an earthling, resurrection of aesthetics that’s not all shiny and brand new. These are the greatest challenges of design in the 21st century.”

“Depletion of global resources, environmental pollution, traffic, urban issues, industrial and lifestyle waste, on top of that, welfare and an aging society…conventional design in its singular pursuit of affluence has left us with a pile of issues. In this day and age, design must beware not to become a meddlesome concept. It seems testing times have come for both man and design.”

(Source: Future/Past/East/West of Design by Ikko Tanaka, Hakusuisha, 1995)

“Ikko Tanaka Graphic Art Botanical Garden” Poster / ginza graphic gallery, 1990

Ikko Tanaka / Graphic Designer 

1930 - 2002. Born in Nara City. Graduated from the current Kyoto City University of Arts. Following a career at Kanegafuchi Boseki and Sankei Shimbun, moved to Tokyo in 1957 to join Light Publicity. In 1960, participated in the founding of Nippon Design Center. In 1963, established IKKO TANAKA design studio. He expanded his field of work to spatial design following the Osaka Expo. In 1975, he was appointed as Creative Director of Seibu Distribution Companies. He wholly supported the company’s image strategy in all areas of design including store interiors, graphic design, and “MUJI” art direction. He also contributed greatly to cultural promotion in companies such as his work with TOTO GALLERY・MA and ggg (DNP Foundation for Cultural Promotion).

He explored the modern way of “tea ceremonies,” a traditional culture of Japan, as a Master of the tea ceremony “Souitsu” through various responsibilities including his role as the art director who planned and supervised the “Sabie” started by the late Masakazu Izumi, second son of Sen Genshitsu (Sohistsu XV), the former Iemoto of the Urasenke School of Tea.

Solo exhibitions in Japan and overseas including the Museum of Advertisement of Musée de l’art Décoratif de Paris in 1988, the Mexico Museum of Modern Art in 1995, and the Milan Contemporary Art Pavillion (PAC) in 1997. In 1994, he received the Medal with Purple Ribbon and was inducted to the New York Art Directors Club Hall of Fame on the same year. In 2000, named as A Person of Cultural Merit by the Japanese government. The recipient of many domestic and international awards. Author of various titles including Design no Shuhen (Hakusuisha, 1980) and Tanaka Ikko Autobiography: Warera Design no Jidai (Hakusuisha, 2001).

Graphic Art, Original material


It will be 10 years this year since the passing of Mr. Ikko Tanaka. Today, Japanese society, particularly in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake, is facing an era of enormous trial, which makes me wonder, “What kind of suggestions and comments would Mr. Tanaka have made in this day and age?” Now being a more perfect time than any other, this exhibition was born from the desire to look deep into the “works of Ikko Tanaka,” a designer who faced his creative passion while drawing to mind the ideal image of society, culture, and life. 

Ikko Tanaka once held an exhibition titled “The Crossroad of Design,” based on the concept that his being stands at the point where the meridian of time and the latitude of East and West cross their ways. The expression, “Future/Past/East/West of Design” used in this exhibition also speaks of how the act of design incorporates various aspects of society and history rather than being simple deskwork or a mere outlet of self-expression.

However, as one given the time to unravel Mr. Tanaka’s archives, I am faced with a dilemma…there are too many works I want to introduce and how can I communicate the attentiveness poured into these works and the stories underlying them? As a follower of this highly regarded director as well as a colleague of the same generation, I hope to finish this exhibition with accuracy and a deep insight.

Kazuko Koike (Exhibition Director)

“The Third International Hokusai Conference in Obuse 1998” Poster,
The Third International Hokusai Conference in Obuse Excuting Committee, 1998

“Imagination of Letters” Poster, Morisawa, 1993

“Music Today [’73]”, Original drawing

“Music Today [’73]” Poster, Seibu Theater (current PARCO Theater), 1973

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