New York
New York  Art at Site Nara		Yoshitomo	White Ghost

Nara Yoshitomo

White Ghost
Asia Society (contemporary)
Art Production Fund is honored to present “White Ghost” by Yoshitomo Nara in two locations on Park Avenue. “We are thrilled to be working with Nara to introduce his first public sculptures in New York City” says Co-founders of Art Production Fund, Yvonne Force Villareal and Doreen Remen.
This public art installation will coincide with Nara’s exhibition “Yoshitomo Nara: Nobody’s Fool” opening at Asia Society on September 9th 2010. During August of 2010 the Park Avenue Armory will host Nara for an open studio residency. The large sculptures stand near the entrances to Asia Society and Park Avenue Armory like komainu, mythical lion-like animal statues commonly placed at the entrance to shrines in Japan as guardians. Nara, who often uses dogs and children as subjects in his work has uniquely combined the two for “White Ghost”. The sculptures will be glossy white, and will sit on rough stone like bases, referencing how artifacts and monuments from the past so often appear in museums. By presenting the sculptures in such a way, he considers the future ruins of his own work, and ultimately his own mortality. The sculptures are pleasing to a child and a passerby while being rigorous work for an art historian to ponder.
Yoshitomo Nara:
Since the Japanese pop movement in the 1990s, Yoshitomo Nara has received international acclaim with his distinct figurative style. His drawings, paintings and sculptures can be seen in the permanent collections at MOMA, New York, CAC Malaga, Spain, Queensland Art Gallery, Australia and his largest sculpture, a 27’ high concrete dog is permanently installed at the Aomori Art Museum, Japan. His mixture of vulnerability, rebellion and hopefulness within his artworks connects intimately with people worldwide. Nara also shares a deep connection with his fans and is always finding creative ways to interact with the public.
The other day a man crossing Park Avenue at 70th Street stopped at the feet of a 12-foot tall, sloe-eyed schoolgirl. She smiled down at him. He peered back. She didn’t respond — but how could she? She’s a ghost. A “White Ghost,” to be exact, one of two glossy fiberglass statues by Yoshitomo Nara that the Art Production Fund installed on the Park Avenue median this week. (The other is at 67th Street.)
The demon child, a recurring figure in the Japanese Neo-Pop star’s art, is not there just to stop traffic. She also signals the arrival of “Nobody’s Fool,” Nara’s first solo American museum show, at Asia Society. Spanning two decades of his painting, drawing, ceramics and sculpture, the retrospective takes up the whole of the museum’s two exhibition floors. On one of them, a warren of playhouse-like rooms made from scrap lumber (designed with his frequent collaborator, Hideki Toyoshima) supply walk-in frames for the naïf renderings of the eager pups and passive-aggressive children that catapulted the artist to international fame in the 1990s. These cartoonish images — the petulant “Little Ramona” has become the Alfred E. Neuman of his life – have made him a cult hero in Japan, particularly to prepubescent girls who see themselves in his paintings.
In fact, his knowing innocents — defiant, guitar-playing, knife-wielding, cigarette-smoking tots with high foreheads and thin lips – mirror his own psyche. On Tuesday evening, just before a cocktail party to celebrate “White Ghost” at the East Side home of Jane Holzer, the art collector, Nara told me his parents had been expecting a girl when he was born. They nicknamed him “Michko,” a masculinization of the name she was going to get. He’s also haunted by an older sister who died at birth, and whom he suspects lives within him. “Emotionally,” he said, “part of me resembles a little girl.”
At the party, he did look rather winsome and far younger than his 50 years. “That’s because I have no wrinkles on my brain,” he joked, twisting the bejesus out of a Yankees cap in his hand. Perhaps being surrounded by major Warhol portraits (of Holzer and Jackie Kennedy) and art glitterati like the collectors Phil and Shelly Fox Aarons, Nara’s dealer Marianne Boesky and her dad, Ivan Boesky, the Art Production Fund’s Yvonne Force Villareal, and John Unwin, the C.E.O. of the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas (a sponsor of “White Ghost”) made him nervous. “Sometimes I’d like to return to the person I was before I was so popular,” he admitted. “Without the pressure.”
He has something of a security blanket in his studio at home, a couple of hours north of Tokyo, which is filled with old toys. As a child he spent a lot of time alone with them, and generally running with his imagination. “I never felt lonely,” he said. “Only frustrated.” He wasn’t making drawings back then. They came later — lots of them. Growing up in rural Japan, he knew nothing about art. A teacher at his prep school encouraged him to go for it, after he aced a life-drawing class featuring nude female models. The Vietnam War was going on, and he was leaning toward a career in photojournalism.
Now, 30 years later, Nara’s art has made him a wealthy man. (The “White Ghost” sculptures will cost any interested party $600,000 each.) He is also happily married to another artist, though she wasn’t at the party with him. (She’s shy.) They chose not to have children. “That’s why I can make so much art,” Nara said. Judging from the show, he never stops making it, unless it’s to listen to rock and punk music, the driving force behind his work — not Japanese manga comics, as many people assume. He was obsessed with the Ramones, and the graphics on the covers of 1960s records by King Crimson, Janis Joplin, the Doors, Geoff Muldaur, Cat Stevens, the Yardbirds and the Rolling Stones, which inspired much of his drawing.
His own collection of those covers and many more are on display in “Nobody’s Fool,” a title borrowed from a song by Dan Penn. Lyrics from other pop songs appear on many of his paintings (some made for albums by the Star Club, a Japanese punk band.) “Born to Lose” appears on one of his recent ceramic jugs, which look a little like large nesting dolls but, riddled with hand-drawn expletives and a swastika, are more than a little edgier. The whole show has that seductive, push-and-pull touch — yearning here, derangement there — which keeps it from tipping over into teeth-gnashing, Hello Kitty sweetness.
How would he feel if people passing by one of his “Ghost” sculptures starting spraying them with similar graffiti? “It depends how talented the vandals are,” he said. “If they’re good, that would be O.K. Otherwise not.”