Shanghai welcomes unseen works by Nara

A single, ominous child with a large head and tapering feet floating in an empty atmosphere is Yoshitomo Nara’s signature image.

He is immensely popular in the art world and has earned him a legion of young fans all over the world.

“Yoshimoto Nara,” a major exhibition about the world-renowned Japanese artist, is on at the Yuz Museum until September 4. This is his first retrospective abroad.

The exhibition, which was organized by the Yuz Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in close collaboration with the artist, includes more than 70 major works by Nara, ranging from painting, sculpture, ceramics and of the installation.

The exhibition features a collection of previously unseen sketches by Nara, providing a comprehensive picture of the artist’s career, spanning over 37 years.

Born in 1959, Nara grew up in Hirosaki, Aomori. The former army barracks served as a primary and secondary school. As a key child, Nara used to play alone while his parents worked, and one of his first “playgrounds” was an abandoned arms depot.

Thus, he had the feeling that “the whole area was filled with debris and ghosts”.

Graduated with an MFA from Aichi Prefectural University of Fine Arts and Music in Nagakute in 1987, he completed his studies at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, Germany in 1993.

During the decade he spent in Cologne, Nara began his artistic career. In the mid-1990s, he created his signature fine art image, refining the body contour in muted pastels. He intensified the figure by experimenting with sideways gazes and slightly off-center placement against a monochromatic background.

Such contempt, meanness and juvenile attitudes reflect the psychological movements of the spectators in their real environment. However, according to the artist, “these works were not born from a confrontation with the other, but from a confrontation with myself”.

Nara explores her inner self, drawing inspiration from a variety of sources including childhood memories, music, literature, her studies and her life in Germany from 1988 to 2000), her roots in Asia and Sakhalin and modern art from Europe and Japan.

Shanghai welcomes unseen works by Nara

Work for the picture book, “Lonesome Puppy”

Today, he is among the most beloved artists of his generation, known for his portraits of figures with vaguely menacing gazes and penetrating gazes, sometimes wielding knives or cigarettes, as well as heads and figures that float in dream landscapes.

Spanning from 1984 to 2021, the exhibition showcases the artist’s work through the lens of his lifelong passion – music – which is manifested through a wall of album covers that Nara has collected.

“If viewers are able to see past the impulsive, superficial impact of the work and feel a moving stillness and depth, then, without a doubt, those effects are influenced by such music,” Nara said.

One of the highlights is “Fountain of Life, 2021”, which was previously shown in his first major investigative exhibition, “I Don’t Mind, If You Forget Me”, at the Yokohama Museum of Art in 2001 .

The sculpture is made of FRP (fiber-reinforced polymer/plastic) and features a skull with closed eyelids jutting out from inside a massive teacup.

The melancholy of this work is palpable, and the streamlined profiles of the figure evoke the richly drawn abstract paintings of Japanese abstract painter Moikazu Kumagai, whom Nara has long admired.

Another highlight of the exhibition is the “Sculpture Park of Yoshimoto Nara”, which features a selection of intimidating bronze works and FRP prototypes on a site-specific platform designed by Studio Adrien Gardere.

These huge heads, when enlarged into floor sculptures, look quite clumsy and extremely tense, creating a completely different mood from the Nara paintings.

Exhibition information:

Dates: until September 4 (closed on Mondays), from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Tickets: 200 yuan

Venue: Yuz Museum Shanghai

Address: 35 Fenggu Road

Christopher S. Washington