NARA Yoshitomo[1959-]

NARA Yoshitomo was born in 1959 in Hirosaki City. He moved to Tokyo after graduating from Aomori Prefectural Hirosaki High School in 1978. In 1981, he enrolled in the Faculty of Arts at Aichi Prefectural University of Fine Arts and Music to major in oil painting in the Department of Fine Arts. After completing a master’s degree program at the university’s graduate school in 1987, he moved to Germany in 1988 and enrolled in the arts academy Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where he was taught by professors such as Michael Buthe and A.R. Penck. Upon finishing his studies at the academy, he settled in Cologne in 1994. His time in Cologne, where he lived until 2000, was a prolific period for the artist. It was during this time that he created his 1996 works “Mumps” and “Pancake Kamikaze,” as well as many of the images of defiantly staring children for which he is most well-known. During this period, he also received more and more opportunities to hold solo exhibitions in Japan and Europe as his work began to attract growing interest.
Nara returned to Japan in 2000, bringing his twelve-year stay in Germany to an end. In the following year, his first full-scale Japanese solo exhibition “I DON'T MIND, IF YOU FORGET ME.” featuring new paintings, drawings, and three-dimensional works toured five venues in Japan, starting with the Yokohama Museum of Art. It took the art world by storm, with all of the venues recording staggering numbers of visitors. Among these, the exhibition held at the Yoshii Brick Brewhouse (now the Hirosaki Museum of Contemporary Art) in Nara’s birthplace of Hirosaki City was run by a total of 4,600 volunteers. The scale of this active involvement and participation by local residents made it a milestone event in the history of art exhibitions.
In 2003, the solo exhibition “Nothing Ever Happens” featuring Nara’s works from 1997 and later was held at five venues in the US, including the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland. It was around this time that Nara began to collaborate with the Osaka-based creative unit “graf” on exhibition spaces formed from installation-like works, mainly sheds made from reclaimed waste materials. The exhibition “A to Z” held in 2006 at the Yoshii Brick Brewhouse in Hirosaki City can be considered the culmination of this series. Works by Nara himself as well as other artists associated with him were scattered inside and outside about thirty sheds of different sizes, making the venue look like a townscape. From 2010 through to the following year, the large-scale solo exhibition “Nobody’s Fool” was held at the Asia Society Museum in New York. It met with acclaim, and attendance set a new record for the museum. In that same year, Nara was awarded by the International Center in New York for his contributions to American culture as an individual of foreign origin. In 2018, his own private contemporary art space, “N’s YARD,” opened in Nasushiobara in Tochigi Prefecture, the city that has served as his base. His works are also housed by many museums in Japan and abroad.
The Aomori Museum of Art began collecting Nara’s works in 1998 and now holds over 170 of them. Nara’s works are displayed as part of the museum’s permanent collection on a rotating basis. In addition, monumental works taking advantage of the museum’s architectural spaces can be found on the premises, including the giant dog statue Aomori-ken (Aomori Dog) and the bronze sculpture “Miss Forest” installed inside Hakkakudo “Octagonal Chamber,” a structure designed by Nara himself. Nara’s works can also be seen elsewhere in Aomori Prefecture, such as “Yoroshiku Girl” on an exterior wall of the Towada Art Center and “A to Z Memorial Dog” at the Hirosaki Museum of Contemporary Art.


≪Make the Road, Follow the Road≫
acrylic on canvas
© Yoshitomo Nara


acrylic on cotton mounted on canvas
© Yoshitomo Nara


≪Aomori Hutte 1≫
© Yoshitomo Nara