The images that Yoshitomo Nara creates are both cute and cunning, innocent and angst-filled. The images, with large, trusting eyes, often holding weapons, have created a new Gen Z audience, that relate to the complex feelings that Nara’s work evokes. Young people, who experienced the angst of the pandemic, discovered his art and have been sharing Nara’s images on TikTok and other social media sites.
Nara, himself, grew up in post-World War ll Japan, a latch-key kid, who became obsessed with the rock music broadcast from a nearby American military post radio station. He has had international success, and something of a cult following since the 1990s.
Events like the 2011 tsunami in Japan and the recent pandemic have further influenced his work. A retrospective of his work was scheduled to be shown at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in 2020. Nara arrived in LA to help curate the exhibit, but had to return to Japan, after just three days in the U.S, when the lockdown began at the start of the pandemic.
When he returned to Japan his painting style began to change. Instead of the smooth fields of color that he had previously used, he began to push the paint onto the canvas. He created Miss Spring, available at VFA, in this new style.
The LACMA retrospective finally opened in April 2021 and was a huge success, garnering Nara a new audience who could relate to the subjects and emotions elicited by his work.
Yoshitomo Nara currently has solo exhibits at the Art Gallery of Western Australia, the Albertina Modern in Vienna, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark, Le Tripostal in Lille, France, and many others in museums throughout Japan, including the Aomori Museum of Art.
Nara made a portrait of Michael Jackson in 2009, just as the singer was getting ready for his This Is It concert tour and the same year that he died. The painting, titled Acid MJ sold this month for HK$47.4 million (US $5.2 million).
The collaboration between Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat was short-lived, but so noteworthy that it is still talked about, written about and has been the subject of theater and film. A limited edition book of photographs of the two artists by photographer Jeannette Montgomery Barron has just been released.
The two icons met in 1982, long after Warhol had become a legend and Basquiat was at the apex of his career. They collaborated on paintings and socialized. Basquiat even moved into a building owned by Warhol. Their final show was at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in 1985. It got harsh reviews, and was the beginning of the breakdown of their friendship.
Warhol died in 1987, at age 58, after what was supposed to be minor surgery. Basquiat, who had been a heavy drug user, died in 1988, at age 27.
The fascination with each, and both, of these great artists continues to this day. In 2021, the Andy Warhol Museum exhibited Warhol and Basquiat in Focus: Works from the Permanent Collection. In 2022 a play about the two artists, called The Collaboration, opened at London’s Young Vic theater. The Warhol Diaries documentary on Netflix captured a very wide audience.
Janette Fu. Yoshitomo Nara and the clash of innocence and menace. University of Southern California/Annenberg Media. April 24, 2023.
Kabir Jhala. From a homoerotic Marsden Hartley to a Yoshitomo Nara painting of Michael Jackson: our pick of the highlights from April's sales. The Art Newspaper. April 17, 2023.
Admin Team. “Acid M. J.” sold for HK$47.4 million. Vibe. April 6, 2023.
Samantha Conti. A Portrait of the Artists: Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol. Women’s Wear Daily. May 2, 2023.
Lucy Howie. Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol: An Unlikely Pair. MyArtBroker. 2022.