Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Jill Krementz covers Yoshitomo Nara at Asia Society

Yoshitomo Nara, White Ghost, 2010
Asia Society and Museum
725 Park Avenue (at 70th Street)
September 9-January 2, 2011

Yoshitomo Nara
is one of the most influential and internationally renowned Neo Pop artists working today.

Born in Japan in 1959, where he presently lives and works, Nara has achieved cult- like status. It's easy to see why, now that we can see his deeply moving exhibition at the Asia Society Museum. This is the first time the museum has devoted its entire space to a contemporary artist and it was a wise decision on the part of Director Melissa Chiu and associate curator Miwaka Tezuka.

On view are more than a hundred works — drawings, sculptures and large-scale installations — created by the artist over the last two decades. The exhibit links his art with rock and punk music, which have been the inspiration for many of his works. This unique show will make you smile and in some instances it will make you empathize with the intense isolation and loneliness experienced by the artist during his childhood.

A visit to the Asia Society Museum will delight young and old and it's one you should not miss. Welcome to Park Avenue Mr. Nara. And a deep bow of appreciation to Ms. Chiu and Ms. Tezuka.
I am grateful I attended an evening at Asia Society a few weeks ago in order to see a documentary film about Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara, which was followed by a Q and A with the museum's associate curator Miwako Tezuka. Not knowing very much about Nara, who is one of the most influential Neo Pop artists working today, I learned a lot about this talented, and charming, young man.
Stairway and entrance foyer of Asia Society Museum.
The title of the show, Nobody's Fool is from a 1973 song by the soul musician Dan Penn.
Intrepid reporter Sharon Hoge showing off four limbs which, for once, are all in one piece! Whenever I see Sharon (which is often because she is everywhere), she usually has either an arm in a sling or a foot in
a cast.
Asia Society Museum Director Melissa Chiu, who is looking very svelte after giving birth to a baby girl less than two months ago.
Yoshitomo Nara with Associate Curator, Miwako Tezuko, at the press conference at Asia Society.
Dr. Claus Mueller of International Film & TV Exchange. Dr. Mueller teaches at Hunter. Melissa Chiu greets the press.
Left to right: Yoshitomo Nara with his team of collaborators Hideki Toyoshima, Takako Hosoda, Yasumasa Konishi, and Ryo Aoyanagi.
An illustrated 271-page catalogue, Yoshitomo Nara: Nobody's Fool, published by Asia Society Museum in association with Abrams, New York, accompanies the exhibition. The catalogue is housed in a somewhat witty slipcase echoing one of Nara's houses replete with windows into which you can peer and see additional surprises. $60.
A double page spread depicting Remember Me (2005) and Home (2006).
Dogs from Your Childhood
Fiberglass, wood, fabric and acrylic paint

When asked about his frequent depiction of dogs, Nara has remarked that their submissive obedience reminds him, sadly, of children. In many of his works, children and animals are interchangeable representations of loneliness and solitude. They are also a sign of innocence and its fragility. Dogs from Your Childhood includes three white puppies facing each other. With their eyes closed, the contemplative puppies seem to be having a quiet conversation. A poem that Nara wrote for these sculptures, From the Expanding Watchtower, indicates that this work connects loosely to personal reflections, allowing the viewer a glimpse into the artist's consciousness.

Each dog is wearing a green canvas collar.
A display of Nara's playful ceramics made in 2009.
Nara's most recent works in ceramic are a new medium for the artist. The gourd-shaped vases (and massive round plates that you will see later in this photojournal) are made at one of Japan's oldest kilns in the Shigaraki region. Nara writes phrases from songs on these new ceramic works, which can then be arranged and rearranged to piece together one's own lyrics.
N.Y. (Self-portrait)
Etching and aquatint
Futaba House, Waiting for Rain Drops, 1984
Acrylic on board
There is No Place Like Home, 1984
Acrylic and crayon on paper
Hannya Neko (Hannya Cat), 1989
The title of this work refers to hannya, a type of mask used in classical Japanese Noh theater to represent a demonic female character, whose anger, resentment, and jealousy have been caused by abandonment and negligence. This is a rare example of painting in which Nara uses a cat, rather than a dog, to communicate an uneasy and eerie feeling. The disembodied head of an anthropomorphic creature floating in empty space foreshadows later sculptural works that take the form of masks.
Make the Road, Follow the Road, 1990
This early painting, created two years into Nara's stay in Germany, depicts many motifs — a girl, an animal, a house — that he would return to throughout his career. Although he would later focus on defining these elements with more distinct lines and shapes, during his formative years Nara was primarily concerned with narrative. Like medieval religious painting, an important source of early inspiration for the artist, the figures appear flat and the action takes place on a single plane of the composition. Captured here is a fateful moment, like the Annunciation, but in a mythology of Nara's own making: the girl stands before the small animal and confers upon it a knife and a ball of fire. While Nara does not reveal the precise meaning of this exchange, he offers a clue by incorporating lyrics from "Nothing ever happens, nothing ever happens at all / The needle returns to the start of the song / And we all sing along like before." The song laments the cyclical monotony and loneliness of everyday life. Symbolically, Nara's painting may imply an aspiration for breaking this stasis. The animal is provided with the tools needed to forge a new path for itself.
Girl with Her Head in the Clouds
Gouache on paper
Remember Me
Acrylic on paper
Gone with the Cloud
Oil on canvas

Since returning to Japan in 2000, Nara has been increasingly interested in collaboration and the sense of isolation in his work has accordingly lessened. Gone with the Cloud is one of several works that Nara crated with his longtime friend Hiroshi Sugito (born 1970, Japan). Sugito, an accomplished painter in his own right, is well-known for his uninhabited landscapes and depictions of empty theaters. Nara has compared their side-by-side collaborative process to two children playing in a sandbox. In Gone with the Cloud, they worked so closely together that it is hard to separate whose hand appears where.
Acrylic on canvas

Following his return from Germany to Japan in 2000, Nara again became interested in working in a more painterly style as he had early in his career. The subjects of his painting began to show a more contemplative rather than aggressive air. M.J. exemplifies this return to a pensive mood depicted with painterly texture and subtle layers of color. The title suggests that is a portrait of Michael Jackson, painted before his death on June 25, 2009.
Pale Mountain Dog
Acrylic on canvas
Tomio Koyama, who owns a gallery in Tokyo. The gallery has exhibited Nara's work in the past and continues to represent the artist in Japan. Flaming Head
Acrylic on wood
Hey Hey My My Rock'n Roll Never Die!
Untitled (1,2,3,4 Man)
Untitled (Kill Kill Kill the P)
Untitled (1,2,3,4!)
Walter Robinson, artist, art critic, and editor of Artnet.
Amuro Girl
Puffy Girl
Amuro Girl and Puffy Girl, which were first present in Nara's solo exhibition at Tomio Koyama Gallery in Tokyo in 1997, refer to two of the most iconic Japanese pop idols of the 1990s. Fans easily recognize the singer Namie Amuro's long straight hair, and the fluffy bangs and rounded eyes of the duo Puffy AmiYumi—looks that thousands of young people imitate. Nara himself has identified these stars as his favorite pop musicians.
Happy Hour
Acrylic on paper

This work is named after an album, released in 1998 by Japan's leading all-female punk band Shonen Knife. At the time, Nara was still relentlessly unrecognized by critics and specialists in the art world, and so it was to his great surprise that band member Naoko Yamano called him directly one day to ask him to design this album jacket. In the music video for "Banana Chips" from this album, three band members are animated in a style inspired by Nara.

Shonen Knife, the above mentioned all-female punk-pop trio, will be giving a performance at Asia Society on Saturday, September 25th at 8 PM.
Hyper Enough (to the City)
Acrylic on canvas
On wall in the foreground: Hellcat, 2000. On back wall: Pyromaniac Day and Pyromaniac Dead of Night, 1999.
The Girl with the Knife in Her Hand, 1991 Stand By Me
Colored pencil on paper
Underground Cliché, 1997 Oh! My God! I Miss You
Synthetic polymer paint and pencil on printed paper
Too Young To Die
Acrylic on cotton mounted on fiber reinforced plastics
No Hopeless, 2007
Rachel Cooper, Director of Cultural Programs and Performing Arts at Asia Society. There are lots of wonderful events planned around this exhibition.
View when you peek through windows of one of Nara's house installations.
Mixed-media installation
Peace Sign
Handmade stuffed dolls,
collection of the artist
Close-up photographs of handmade stuffed dolls contained in Peace Sign.
Interior of an installation where visitors can watch a slide show. Or they can sit on cushions scattered on wooden floor.
Your Dog
74 x 48 x 97 in.

In the lobby, Your Dog greets visitors. Puppies, apparently separated from their owners and facing the unknown, often appear in Nara's work and relate to the artist's failed attempt to adopt a stray dog when he was a child.
Album art has interested Nara since his teenage years when, as a music-hungry high-school student, he often purchased foreign import records by sharing the cost with his friends. For Nara, album art is as important as the music that comes inside; an album jacket, he has said, is a charged space for collaboration between sound and image. Many artists have created album covers that give visual expression to music in this way: Andy Warhol for the Velvet Underground, and Nico, Peter Blake for The Beatles, Robert Rauschenberg for Talking Heads, and Raymond Pettibon for Sonic Youth to name a few.

The one hundred album jackets on view in this gallery have been selected by Nara himself from his own extensive record collection. The selection reveals his favorite album art and provides insight into his current playlist.
Ceramic plate, 2007 Ceramic plate, 2007
1,2,3,4! Hey Ho! Let's Go!
Nara is a huge fan of the Ramones. He started listening to them when he was in his second year in high school.
One of several large billboard paintings that can be seen through cutouts.

One Foot in the Groove / For Donnie Fritts
Acrylic on wood board
Collection of the artist
Nobody’s Fool / For Dan Penn & AL
Acrylic on wood board
Collection of the artist

You can see the words "Nobdy's Fool" in the left eye of the young girl.
Dulcimer / For Jean Ritchie
Acrylic on wood board
Collection of the artist
How Did the Dog Get It?
Ink and colored paper on graph paper
Black Eye and Fat Lip
Ballpoint pen, colored pencil, pencil, felt-tip pen, and gouache on graph paper
Merry Christmas!
Ballpoint pen and colored pencil on paper
For the People
Pencil and colored pencil on paper
Wanna Be Beethoven
Pencil and colored pencil on notebook paper
Fat Lipp
Pencil and colored pencil on graph paper
Guston Girls Smoke too Much
Felt-tip pen and colored pencil on notebook paper
Whimsical entrance to the last installation of the exhibition which is a magical house. One of the aspects of the exhibit I most enjoyed was the specially installed wooden floors which look great, feel nice, and even smell wonderful.
At the end of your journey through the Nara wonderland is this spectacular little house with a steep roof — on top of which sits a gold elephant. You'll want to peek through windows.
Drawing Room Between the Concord and Merrimack
Mixed-media installation
Collection of the artist

This title refers to a poem by Henry David Thoreau. Inside this house are over 50 drawings, created by Nara during his five-day Open Studio residency at Park Avenue Armory in August. The structure is surrounded by a curtain, which, together with its multicolor circular base and draped lighting, is meant to evoke a carnival tent and concert space.
A glazed gold ceramic elephant is perched on the tippy top of the house.
The interior of the little house reveals a low work table which one assumes belongs to the artist. Scattered about, on the table and on the walls, are the artist's drawings of little girls. Cylindrical ceramic vases to the right hold pencils.
Meggie Miao, broadcast associate for CBS Sunday Morning program. Nara-related merchandise (books, stuffed animals, the exhibition, catalogue, and posters) on sale in the gift shop on the ground floor.
There are two large outdoor sculptures which have been created by Yoshitomo Nara on the grassy medians of Park Avenue: one is near the entrance to Asia Society on 70th Street, and the other (also called White Ghost) shown in above photo, is near the Armory on 65th Street. The sculptures are presented by Art Production Fund in association with Asia Sociey. These installations are supposed to remind you of komainu, mythical lion-like statues commonly placed as guardians at the entrance to Japanese shrines.
Text and photographs © by Jill Krementz; all rights reserved.