The Little Pilgrims (Night Walking)

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  • Condition Report

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  • Provenance

    Blum & Poe, Santa Monica
    Private Collection, Los Angeles (acquired from the above in 2000)
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Tokyo, Setagaya Art Museum, Art/Domestic: Temperature of the Time, 11 February - 22 March 1999, pl. 44, passim (another example exhibited and illustrated)
    Santa Monica, Blum & Poe, Yoshitomo Nara: An Exhibition of Sculpture in Two Parts (PART I),18 February - 13 March 1999
    Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Walk On: Works by Yoshitomo Nara, 18 March – 25 June 2000

  • Literature

    Bijutsu Techo Monthly Art Magazine, vol.52, no.790, July 2000, pp. 20-23 (another example illustrated)
    Bijutsu Techo Monthly Art Magazine, vol.53, no.813, December 2001, p.77 (another example illustrated)
    I Don’t Mind, if You Forget Me, exh. cat., Yokohama Museum of Art, Yokohama, 2001, no. 38, p. 132 (another example illustrated)
    Yoshitomo Nara: Lullaby Supermarket, exh. cat., Institut für Kunst Nürnberg, Nürnberg, 2002, pp. 13, 140-141, 146, 197-198 (another example illustrated)
    Phaidon ed., CREAM 3: Contemporary Art in Culture: 10 Curators, 100 Contemporary Artists, 10 Source Artists, London, 2003, p. 242 (another example illustrated)
    Yoshitomo Nara, THE LITTLE STAR Dweller, Tokyo, 2004, p. 145 (another example illustrated)
    Mark Coetzee, Not Afraid: Rubell Family Collection, New York, 2004, p. 87 (another example illustrated)
    Plastic Culture, Tokyo, 2006, p. 88 (another example illustrated)
    Noriko Miyamura and Shinko Suzuki, eds., Yoshimoto Nara: the Complete Works, Volume 1: Paintings, Sculptures, Editions, Photographs 1984-2010, Tokyo, 2011, no. S-1999-009; S-2000-002, p.270 (another example illustrated)
    NARA Yoshitomo: a bit like you and me…, exh. cat., Yokohama Museum of Art, Yokohama; Aomori Museum of Art; Aomori Contemporary Art Museum, Kumamoto, 2012, pp. 52, 55 (another example illustrated)
    Bijutsu Shuppan-Sha ed. Yoshimoto Nara: The Complete BT Archives 1991-2013, Tokyo, 2013, pp. 13, 94-97, 311 (another example illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    "But what odd pilgrims they are! They run this way and that. They run with little arms stretched out before them, heads leaning back and closed eyes – an army of sleepwalkers." – Stephan Trescher (Exh. Cat., Nuremberg, Institut für moderne Kunst, Yoshitomo Nara, Lullaby Supermarket, 2001, p. 13)

    In 1999 the prolific Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara created one of his most iconic figures and inaugurated his definitive sculptural series, The Little Pilgrims. As a comprehensive example of this seminal moment, The Little Pilgrims (Night Walking) marks a crucial turning point in the artist’s prodigious career, signifying the diversification of his practice beyond its roots in the art of drawing and solidifying the importance of sculpture and installation as a means of realising his idiosyncratic visions. Composed of five exquisitely crafted and delicately enigmatic figures, each seemingly identical yet uniquely clothed, the surreal tableau is paradigmatic of Nara’s engagement with the themes of sleep, consciousness and the limitless possibilities of childlike imagination. As charismatic individual works of sculpture, the figures occupy a liminal existence between states of interior dreams and external exploration, whilst as a group they powerfully manifest that surreal in-between state within our own physical space. As the personification of pure innocence, the wandering sleepwalkers embody the infant sense of curiosity that guides our consciousness from the cradle into adulthood. Smoothly sculpted in delicate pastel tones, the group is also emblematic of the stylistic shift that Nara made at the end of the decade; eschewing his fiery punk-rock inspired characters in favour of the softer side of fairytale reverie. Having first debuted in 1999 at the seminal exhibition Art/Domestic – Temperature of the Time at the Setagaya Art Museum in Tokyo, The Little Pilgrims (Night Walking) represents the most important addition to Nara’s sculptural oeuvre. As such, they have played a role in defining Nara as one of Japan’s most important and prolific contemporary artists internationally.

    Curated by Takashi Azumaya in 1999, Art/Domestic – Temperature of the Time was considered as a turning point in the history of Japanese contemporary art. At this groundbreaking show at the turn of the millennium, Nara installed a cascade of pilgrim sculptures, identical to the present work. Clustered together in a thin, corridor-like space, the figures were at first placed sparsely at the entrance, with the crowd becoming denser as the room descended into a sense of quiet chaos; the innocent, sleepwalking children each wandering in various directions, seemingly bumping into each other unawares. Attesting to the significance of the series, and how it garnered Nara international acclaim, in the following year The Little Pilgrims (Night Walking) were also featured in one of Nara’s earliest major institutional exhibitions in the United States, Walk On at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Shortly afterwards, the theme was reprised for the 2002 exhibition Lullaby Supermarket in Germany, where Nara covered two walls with colourful versions of The Little Pilgrims (Night Walking). As such, the present work has been instrumental in garnering Nara the worldwide notoriety that he maintains to this day.

    Attending university in Nagoya in the 1980s, living in a prefabricated house and obsessively listening to punk music, Yoshitomo Nara kept a “sketch-diary”, using drawing as a conduit to immediately record his playful escapist visions. The resultant, mischievous cartoon-like characters he created would form the foundations of his revered early oeuvre. Whilst drawings provided imaginative foundations, Nara also forayed into sculpture from early on in his career, transferring his characters into predominantly small carved wooden figurines from the mid 1980s onwards. In the early 1990s Nara experimented with plastic sculpture, but it was not until the end of the decade that he made the leap into making his first fibreglass series. In the vein of Pop artists such as Andy Warhol as well as fellow Japanese visionary Yayoi Kusama, Nara began to utilise serial repetition to add experimental weight to his work. A year prior to the grand unveiling of the The Little Pilgrims (Night Walking), Nara experimented with a set of bunny-like head sculptures (see for example Heads, 1998) that can be seen as a precursor. Also made of fibreglass, they display the same idealised facial features, the pastel skin tones, droopy rabbit ears and the captivating closed elliptical eyes. In the present works Nara continues to exploit the silky smooth properties of fibreglass, creating figures that are both eerily life-like, whilst also pertaining to the aesthetic of mass-produced toys that increasingly populated consumer visual culture in Japan as he grew into adulthood. Adaptable as an immersive installation, The Little Pilgrims (Night Walking) completed a process of releasing Nara’s curious characters from the cerebral surface of paper and canvas into our own lived space.

    Born in 1959, Nara experienced a period of great transition in Japan that included both the invasion of western popular culture and the shift from the larger three-generational family structure to the nuclear family unit. He grew up in Hirosaki, and as the youngest of three brothers whose parents worked long hours, he was often left alone. Nara found solace in imaginative solo activities that would influence this later work: drawing, painting, reading ehon (picture books) and Japanese manga, as well as watching Walt Disney and Warner Brothers animations. His diverse engagement with international and domestic pop culture continued as he grew up. He first moved to Nagakute to study art at the Aichi Prefectural University of Fine Arts and Music, and then left Japan for Germany in 1988 in order to attend the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where he studied until 1993 and was taught by Neo-Expressionist painter A.R. Penck. Fiercely independent from his childhood days, the sleepwalking figures of the present work parallel Nara’s own quest of wandering through an overwhelming sea of cultural influences. But like him, they remain immersed in own interior vision at all times. Following his formal training, Nara frequently stood outside of regular modes of classification, particularly regarding his association with the Superflat movement of the 1990s as propagated by Takashi Murakami. The artists recalled: “Overseas, everyone started to read the work within the context of Murakami’s Superflat theory. In a way, they can be explained with that, so that’s fine, but for me they were much more personal. All the children and animals depicted came from inside me, not from a theory.” (Yoshitomo Nara quoted in Edan Corkill, “Yoshitomo Nara Puts the Heart Back in Art”, The Japan Times, 2012) Caught in an interminable dream state The Little Pilgrims (Night Walking) express the infinite possibilities of imagination, beyond the realm of the conscious mind. They exemplify how Nara’s profoundly unique oeuvre “gives priority to the emotional truth of the dream-vision”. (Midori Matsui, “Art for Myself and Others: Yoshitomo Nara’s Popular Imagination,” Melissa Chiu, Miwako Tezuka eds., Yoshitomo Nara: Nobody’s Fool, Asia Society Museum, New York, 2010, p. 13).

  • Catalogue Essay

    「但是他們是多麼奇怪的朝聖者啊!他們這樣那樣地在跑。他們小手臂向前伸著、頭向後傾斜著、眼睛緊閉著在跑 - 簡直是一群夢遊者。」 ( Stephan Trescher,展覽畫冊,紐倫堡,現代藝術博物館,《奈良美智,催眠超市》,2001年,第13頁)

    1999年,多產的日本藝術家奈良美智創造了他最具代表性的人物之一,並開創了他最權威性的雕塑系列,《小朝聖者》。作為這一重要時刻的綜合性標誌,《小朝聖者(夢遊娃娃)》標記著藝術家漫長的藝術生涯中一個關鍵的轉折點,象徵著他藝術實踐的多樣性已然超越其在繪畫上的紮根,並且鞏固了雕塑和裝置作為媒介在實現其獨特創作中的重要地位。由五個精心刻畫和纖弱詭異的人物組成,每個看似完全相同但又各自穿著不同的衣服,這一超現實的場景正是奈良對睡眠、意識以及兒童無限的想像可能等主題所關注之典範。作為充滿魅力的獨立雕塑作品,這些人物各自游移地存在於內在的睡夢與外在的探索這兩種狀態之間,一組可愛的娃娃卻有力地體現了我們自身所處的物理空間中那種超現實之中間狀態。作為純真的化身,這些夢遊者們象徵著從嬰兒時期到長大成人的過程中引導我們的意識中赤子般的好奇心。雕塑身形平順,色調精緻柔和,這一組作品象徵著奈良在那十年的末期於風格上的轉變;離開他那火熱的龐克搖滾風格,轉向更為柔和的童話遐想之中。1999年在東京的世田谷美術館( Setagaya Art Museum) 之重要展覽〈藝術/家庭-時代的溫度〉( Art/Domestic – Temperature of the Time )中首次亮相,《小朝聖者》代表了奈良最重要的一部分雕塑作品。因此,他們的完成,形成將奈良定義為國際上最重要的、也是最多產的日本藝術家之一的影響力。

    由東谷隆司(Takashi Azumaya)於1999年策展,《藝術/家庭 - 時代的溫度》被認為是日本當代藝術史上的一個轉折點。奈良在千禧世紀之交的這個突破性的展覽中展出了一批與本拍品相同的朝聖者雕塑。聚集在一個像走廊一樣的窄小空間裡的人物,最初被稀疏地放在入口處,接著隨著房間逐漸深入到一種安靜的混亂感,雕塑的擺放變得越來越密集;這些夢遊中天真無邪的娃娃各自在不同的方向徘徊,似乎在不知不覺中互相就要撞在一起。《小朝聖者(夢遊娃娃)》於次年展出於奈良在美國最早的主要藝術機構展覽之一, 芝加哥當代藝術博物館的〈夢遊: 奈良美智作品〉(Walk On: Works by Yoshitomo Nara),證明了該系列的重要性,以及它對奈良獲得國際上的聲譽所引起的作用。不久之後,該主題被重新演繹為2002年在德國的《催眠超市》之展覽,奈良在那裡用彩色版的《小朝聖者(夢遊娃娃)》覆蓋了兩面牆。因此,這件拍品對於奈良在獲得他迄今為止享有的國際聲譽中引發著極其重要的作用。

    1980年代在在名古屋上大學時,奈良美智住在一間組裝的房子裡,痴迷地聽著龐克音樂,當時的他以「草圖日記」的形式,用繪畫作為渠道,直接地紀錄他頑皮的逃避主義視野。由此而產生的淘氣卡通形象則形成了他備受推崇的早期作品的基礎。然而儘管繪畫為他打下了想像的 根基,奈良在他的職業生涯早期便開始嘗試雕塑,在1980年代起就將他創造的人物轉移到小型的木雕中。在1990年代早期,奈良實驗了塑料材質雕塑,然而直到1990年代末他才開始製作他的第一批玻璃纖維系列。與波普藝術家如安迪·沃荷(Andy Warhol)或者是另一位具有遠見的日本藝術家草間彌生(Yayoi Kusama)一脈相承,奈良開始採用連續重複的方式來為他的作品增添實驗性的價值。在《小朝聖者》隆重揭幕的前一年,奈良嘗試了一組可以看作是其前身的《頭》(Heads, 1998)雕塑。它們同樣由玻璃纖維製成,具有相同的理想化面部特徵,柔和的膚色,下垂的兔耳和動人的閉闇的橢圓形眼睛。在本件拍品中,奈良繼續利用相同材質這種柔合光滑的特性來創造出的人物形象,既栩栩如生得恐怖,同時又承載著在他成長過程中不斷佔據日本消費視覺文化的大規模生產的玩具之審美。能夠讓觀者身臨其境,《小朝聖者》完成了將奈良所創造的;那些他好奇想像力中的人物,從紙本和畫布的平面釋放到我們自身的生活空間中之過程。

    1959年出生的奈良,經歷了日本劇烈的轉型時期,其中既包括西方流行文化的入侵,以及日本從三代同堂的大家庭結構轉向核心家庭結構的變化。在弘前長大的他,父母長時間在外工作,又是三兄弟中最年幼的一個,經常自己一人獨處。奈良在富有想像力的個人活動中找到慰藉:素描、繪畫、閱讀 ehon(圖畫書)和日本漫畫,以及觀看華特·迪士尼和華納兄弟的動畫電影,而這些也影響了他後來的創作。在成長過程中不斷接觸多元的國際和國內的流行文化。他先是搬到長久手,在愛知縣立美術和音樂大學學習藝術,之後於1988年離開日本前往德國,就讀於杜塞爾多夫藝術學院直至1993年,師從新表現主義畫家A. R. 彭克(A.R. Penck)。此時的獨立與其童年時代天差地別,當時在洶湧不絕的文化影響之海洋中逐浪的奈良,正像在夢遊中的人物一樣徘徊著前行。但與他一樣,他們始終沉浸在自己的內部視像之中。在經過正式的藝術訓練之後,奈良常常是立於常規的分類模式之外的,尤其在提及他與由村上隆所帶動之20世紀90年代的超扁平運動的聯繫。藝術家回憶說:「在海外,所有人都開始以村上隆的超扁平理論為背景來解讀我的作品。在某種程度上,可以這樣去解釋,這也沒問題,但對我來說,創作出的人物角色是更個人化的。我描繪的所有兒童和動物都來自我的內心,而不是來自什麼理論。」(奈良美智引自Edan Corkill,《奈良美智將心放回藝術中》,日本時報,2012年)處於無休止的睡夢狀態中,《小朝聖者》表達了超越意識思維領域的無限想像力。他們顯示了奈良深刻獨特的作品如何「強調夢想視野中所蘊含的情感真理」(松井碧,《為我自己和他人所作的藝術:奈良美智的流行想像力》,Melissa Chiu,手塚美和子(編輯),《奈良美智:沒有人是傻瓜》,亞洲文化協會美術館,紐約,2010年,第13頁)。

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The Little Pilgrims (Night Walking)

1999
acrylic, lacquer and cotton on FRP
each 72 x 50 x 42.5 cm. (28 3/8 x 19 5/8 x 16 3/4 in.)
Executed in 1999, this work is number 2 of an edition of 10 with 2 artist proofs.

Estimate
HK$7,000,000 - 10,000,000 
€793,000-1,130,000
$897,000-1,280,000

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Isaure de Viel Castel
Head of Department, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 26 May 2019