Toys and Things Japanese: The Work of Shigeo Fukuda

May 1 - June 10, 1967

Vintage Foldable IBM Gallery Invitation, Paul Rand text only

Paul Rand had a longstanding friendship with Shigeo Fukuda. He has said of Fukuda, “A playful heart requires no translation”. Shigeo Fukuda has frequently written on Paul Rand and quotes by him are frequently found on the book-jackets of Paul Rand’s books. Shigeo Fukuda has said; “Paul Rand is a man who has shaped and influenced the course of 20th century graphic design to a remarkable degree.” Yusaku Kamekura first met Paul Rand in 1954. As well as seeing the “genius” in Rand’s work, Kamekura also recognized something essentially Japanese in his style: “When we Japanese look at Paul Rand’s work and ponder the futility of our struggle to absorb western culture, we are stunned to recognize traditional Japanese styles - styles which we Japanese have long forgotten - running beautifully and refreshingly through them (From Yusaku Kamekura: His Works. Bijutsu Shuppan-sha, 1971.).” It is no secret that Rand was a great admirer of Japanese design and would regularly remind his students that the Japanese were, in his mind, entirely unparalleled the field.

Shigeo Fukuda passed away on January 11, 2009. Here are excerpts from the Steven Heller obituary (January 19, 2009) in the New York Times: “Mr. Fukuda was expert at communicating messages using minimal graphic means. Although he admired Japanese woodblock traditions, his spare style was universal, his symbolism bridging cultural divides. … Although he had some commercial clients, most of his work was for social and cultural concerns, like the 1970 World’s Fair in Osaka, for which he designed the official poster.

“I believe that in design, 30 percent dignity, 20 percent beauty and 50 percent absurdity are necessary,” he once told the Japanese design magazine Idea.

“Graphic wit was part of Mr. Fukuda’s upbringing. Born in 1932 in Tokyo to a family of toy manufacturers, he enjoyed making origami as child. Yet as a young man in the late 1940s and ’50s he developed a keen interest in minimalist Western graphic design known as the Swiss Style. He graduated from the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music in 1956.

“Mr. Fukuda was the first Japanese designer inducted into the New York Art Directors Club Hall of Fame. He was also the subject of a major show at the I.B.M. Gallery in New York in 1967 organized by Paul Rand, designer of the I.B.M. logo. The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco mounted an exhibition in 1987, and in 1999, the Japan Foundation in Toronto presented the show “Visual Prankster: Shigeo Fukuda.”

— Randall Ross of

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Rand Text:

The notion of play as a creative process has always intrigued me. On first seeing the work of Shiego Fukuda I was impressed with how felicitously it exemplified this concept. The seemingly endless variations which his work exhibits could, I believe, only be generated by a strong sense of play. His work is lively, full of joy and humor. This is not to say that it is either frivolous or ephemeral; on the contrary, I feel that it can unquestionably be considered a genuine artistic expression.

Irrespective of the medium used, the products are characteristic of the finest Japanese craftsmanship. And even though the forms “feel” contemporary, they seem to me to embody those same qualities which make traditional Japanese design so distinguished.

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