Arts / Museums

Japanese Artist Yoshitomo Nara Is Bringing His Monumental Museum Show to Dallas

The Exhibit Opens at Dallas Contemporary on January 30

BY // 01.12.21

Update: Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Dallas Contemporary has postponed the opening of Yoshitomo Nara’s exhibit to March 20, 2021. The museum will still reopen on January 30, 2021, with presentations by Liu Xiaodong, Ariel René Jackson and Paolo Roversi.

This month, global talent Yoshitomo Nara — a leading star (along with Takashi Murakami) of the Superflat movement, travels to Texas to install a monumental museum show at the Dallas Contemporary. Concurrently, Los Angeles County Museum of Art mounts an international touring retrospective, and Phaidon publishes the artist’s monograph that weighs in at 330 pages/380 images.

We caught up with the man who’s been tracking Nara’s trajectory across multiple continents for more than two decades: Dallas Contemporary adjunct curator Pedro Alonzo, who’s organizing Nara’s first museum solo in Texas. Catherine D. Anspon discusses with Alonzo, his take on why Nara’s work is often misunderstood, and why his drawings, sculpture, and paintings are ultimately more than manga and beyond neo-Pop.

On your history with the artist.

Pedro Alonzo: I first met Nara in the late ’90s on the occasion of one of his first exhibitions in the U.S. at INOVA [Institute of Visual Arts] in Milwaukee. Peter Doroshenko was the director of INOVA then. [Doroshenko is now director of the Dallas Contemporary.] I’ve known Nara and followed his work for many years since. We occasionally correspond and see each other in the art-world circuit.

When the Dallas Contemporary show was hatched.

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PA: I first spoke to [gallerist] Tim Blum [Blum & Poe, one of the artist’s two global galleries] about doing a show at Dallas Contemporary. Tim was enthusiastic. He suggested I travel to Japan to see Nara’s show at the Toyota Museum and to meet with the artist. Nara and I had not seen each other in several years. We had a lovely lunch, and I invited him to do a show. Nara said he would have to think about it, check his exhibition commitments, etc. He would let me know in a week. A week later, he replied, “Yes.” I was thrilled.

Yoshitomo Nara
Yoshitomo Nara is a leading artist of the Superflat movement. (Courtesy of Nara, Blum & Poe, and Pace Gallery)

What is Nara like?

PA: He’s a lovely human being. Charming, funny. A pleasure to be with, but also a quiet individual. A private person. I have tremendous respect for him.

What is unique about the Dallas exhibition versus LACMA?

PA: Most of the artworks in the [Dallas Contemporary] show were made in the last two years. The exhibition includes several impressive large-scale paintings on wood. There are several older works, the oldest dating back to 2006. The work in our show is more casual and free in appearance and technique. There are references to popular culture, the street, activism, and music. Many of the works are painted on everyday materials such ass wood or cardboard. It is less formal, more youthful in spirit. We also have a wonderful selection of new sculptures in bronze that were made for this show and have never been exhibited before.

Hanging the show.

PA: The exhibition will be on view in Gallery 3, the big space. Nara will be present, we will be working side by side, at a safe social distance, to install the exhibition.

Secrets of his studio and practice.

PA: Nara lives very simply. He is also quite private. Both are rare qualities in an artist of his stature, which I admire tremendously. He does not have studio assistants. I am impressed that having the ability to work with any foundry in the world he decided to make his bronze sculptures at a university in Japan surrounded by art students. I cannot imagine another artist of his caliber doing that. Nara is unique.

Influences that shaped the artist’s work.

PA: Nara was deeply impacted by his youth in rural Japan. He talks of a solitary childhood surrounded by nature. Music fed his soul, album covers inspired him. Art became a creative release. The tragic 2011 earthquake challenged his ability to paint on canvas. His works on canvas are highly coveted. He could not paint with the pain and tragedy that afflicted Japan. It was in sculpture, the visceral, tactile process of molding clay that he found a creative release during the tragedy.

What you hope viewers take away.

PA: That Nara is a master at conveying human emotion.

“Yoshitomo Nara: I Forgot Their Names and Often Can’t Remember Their Faces but Remember Their Voices Well,” at the Dallas Contemporary; January 30 through August 22, dallascontemporary.org.

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