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Yoshitomo Nara Reflects on His Major LACMA Retrospective

The exhibition gathers a whopping 800 artworks and focuses on the deep influence of music on the popular Japanese artist.

Yoshitomo Nara, “Schallplatten” (2012), colored pencil on cardboard, 12¼ × 12¼ inches (collection of the artist, © Yoshitomo Nara 2012, photo by Keizo Kioku, courtesy the artist)

As a young boy in northern Japan, Yoshitomo Nara listened to the radio station broadcast from a nearby US Air Base. It was the era of the Vietnam War and American folk music, and while Nara couldn’t understand the lyrics, he was intensely drawn to the sounds he heard (Joni Mitchell was a favorite) and, in particular, to the covers of albums he eventually sought out. “That’s how he got into art. Through these album covers,” curator Mika Yoshitake told me over the phone.

Over the summer, Yoshitake installed a major retrospective of Nara’s work, spanning from 1984 to the present, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). It gathers a whopping 800 artworks, including paintings, sculptures, and works on paper, that mostly depict children gazing angrily, intently, and longingly at their viewers. But the first room of the exhibition is instead focused on the 350 records that Nara has collected over the past 40 years. After his early love for folk music, he expanded his horizons to other genres, in particular punk and the German new wave. 

Installation view of Yoshitomo Nara at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2020) (art © Yoshitomo Nara, photo © Museum Associates/LACMA)

“Most people don’t make the connection right away between the big-headed girl paintings and music,” Yoshitake said. While she admitted it’s hard to articulate, it has something to do with the “atmospheric power” that the paintings and music share. “Music’s emotional depth has a parallel in his art,” she determined.

The day after installing Nara’s retrospective, Yoshitake sat down with the artist for a 40-minute conversation which was recorded and is now being shared with the public this Sunday. It will be a unique opportunity to hear about Nara’s process and why his art has become “more meditative” in the last few years. You’ll also have the chance to see visuals from the LACMA exhibition, which is still closed due to COVID-19 regulations.

When: Sunday, October 11, 5–6pm (PDT)
Where: LACMA’s YouTube Channel 

More info at LACMA

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