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Yoshitomo Nara

Freedom and emotion

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao presents possibly the most complete retrospective exhibition to date about Yoshitomo Nara, one of the most significant artists of his generation. His signature style depicting children with large faces and big eyes celebrates freedom and individualism, arousing empathy and affinity through art.

From the very beginning of his career, Yoshitomo Nara felt inspired by popular culture, especially music. This passion for rock and are palpable in his work, as it is his belief of infusing art with emotion. His drawings, paintings, sculptures, and installations, appeal to the viewer’s feelings so that in a certain way they will make the images they see their own. Beneath an appearance of spontaneity, his works are often the result of careful elaboration, often blending thematic and visual references from the artistic traditions of both East and West.

The artist’s singular universe is populated by recurrent figures, animals and motifs, which speak of his relationship with concepts that are a constant throughout his career: childhood, home, nature, community, music… By sharing with the viewer, Yoshitomo Nara is inviting us to reflect as adults on the challenges of life and society today, from the perspective of our own experience.

From the left: Yoshitomo Nara, Sleepless Night (Sitting), 1907, courtesy of the Rubell Museum, Miami and Washington DC; and Missing in Action, 1999, courtesy of Sallyand Ralph Tawil.  Both ©Yoshitomo Nara, courtesy Yoshitomo Nara Foundation.

This exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao includes a broad selection of paintings, drawings, sculptures, and installations made over the course of the last four decades—1984 to 2024—reflecting Yoshimoto Nara’s empathetic response to the people and places he has encountered over the years.

From his childhood memories to his favourite music growing up, his early trip to Europe as a student in 1980 where he discovered western art – from medieval iconography to the masters of Expressionism – and his move to Germany in 1987 to study at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, the show explores all the influences that have shaped Nara’s stylistic development. Of his travels, Nara said, “After leaving Japan, I realized that seeing things from Mount Fuji is completely different from seeing things from Mount Everest.”

The show also helps visitors understand how deeply-rooted music is in Nara’s work. As a child, he’d listen to folk songs by American singer-songwriters such as Bob Dylan, with their dissenting, anti-war message and support for the civil rights movement; the introspective, melancholic sounds of the blues; and grassroots folk music coming out of England and Ireland. With no understanding of the foreign-language lyrics, Nara absorbed the sounds on a sensory level. Combined with what he intuited from the album cover images, he understood the music on his own term, through emotion. Later, punk and new wave became a source of inspiration for the artist. Through music, Nara connected with a respect for humanity, community, and a sense of freedom.

Yoshitomo Nara seated in front of TOBIU, 2019, donated by the artist to the TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art auction, 2021.

Yoshitomo Nara seated in front of TOBIU, 2019, donated by the artist to the TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art auction, 2021. Courtesy the artist, Blum & Poe, and Pace Gallery. © Yoshitomo Nara, courtesy Yoshitomo Nara Foundation.

This unprecedented retrospective exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao reveals and explores the intriguing world of Yoshitomo Nara. It takes visitors on a journey through his evolving creativity from the origins of his ideas as well as providing a window into his social commitment.

Yoshitomo Nara
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
28th June – 3rd November 2024
Sponsored by the BBVA Foundation
More information and tickets HERE.

Words: Julia Pasarón

Opening image: Yoshitomo Nara, Ships in Girl, 1992. Collection of the Artist. © Yoshitomo Nara. Courtesy Yoshitomo Nara Foundation.

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