Kohei Nawa - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Tuesday, June 8, 2021 | Phillips
  • Introduction


    Kohei Nawa has become one of Japan’s most sought-after artists, advocating a more nuanced view of Japanese art by pushing beyond the iconography of manga and anime, and instead exploring the perception of virtual and physical space in his sculptural work. His sculptures such as PixCell-Deer #40 have won him many international accolades and attracted both critical and popular acclaim, with another deer from this renowned PixCell series, PixCell-Deer #24, now on view at the distinguished Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York as part of their permanent collection


    Kohei Nawa, PixCell-Deer #24, 2011
    Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York



    In his celebrated PixCell series, Nawa covers found objects ranging in size and type in a teeming layer of translucent glass beads, from the small-scale PixCell-Toy-Egg Plant (2006) offered by Phillips in June last year, to this exquisite present work. PixCell-Deer #40 is a salient, sophisticated example of Nawa’s sculptural work, presenting the “PixCellized” representation of a taxidermy deer head, proudly emerging from its wall-mount and enchanting the viewer with its unwavering gaze.


    PixCell Series

    “The process behind the PixCell series begins by collecting motifs through the Internet. At that stage I first encounter the motif as an image (a group of pixels) appearing on the computer screen. I then acquire the actual object, and give it a skin of a large, indeterminate number of cells. When the motif is fully covered with cells, it becomes one of many different motifs that all have the same feel and same sense of distance. The lensing effects of the different-sized cells enable a number of details of the object to be seen simultaneously. This produces a visual experience involving a unique depth and continuity.” 
    — Kohei Nawa

    “PixCell” works such as PixCell Deer #40 explore relationships between polarities, such as the natural and the artificial, the real and the virtual, the singular and the whole. The compound word “PixCell” itself is a play on the word “pixel”, the smallest element of a digital image, and “cell”, the smallest unit of a living organism. In this series, Nawa brings together science and nature in a fascinating fusion of shimmering, mesmerising orbs that hint at the shape of the object within, while also distorting its form, and perhaps with that, its meaning. 


    In PixCell Deer #40, the artist “PixCellizes” the deer by covering its taxidermied body in a sea of crystalline glass balls and beads, using a specific epoxy resin as glue, the formula for which he helped create. Nawa creates a new skin layer, a type of digital skin or synthetic interface, emerging like effervescing bubbles, some small and others large, seemingly just about to pop. The airiness of these glass spheres provides the sculpture with a certain weightlessness as well as a dynamic quality, as though it could float off beyond the wall, perhaps disappearing into another dimension. Further, the viewer observes the deer as if through a mist, and the tonality of its skin appears in flux, with the beads darkening certain patches while illuminating others, creating what the artist has called a ‘husk of light’.i 


    “To our senses of vision and touch, the world is a continuum of surfaces, and all things are covered with some sort of skin. Because we sense and become aware of objects through their skin, it is the quality of the skin that determines whether or not we feel something to be real. The skin becomes an interface that links sensibility with matter, and images are produced through this interplay of sensibility and matter.” 
    — Kohei Nawa


    Compellingly, Nawa achieves the reproduction of a virtual object in reality. This “PixCelled” deer appears as an entity coming into the real world from the digital, for which the viewer is present to witness this process in action. In the same way that the artist first encounters the photograph of the deer on the internet, as an image on the computer screen made up of a vast number of pixels, the viewer is presented with the deer that Nawa has “PixCellized”, altered in appearance by the apparently boundless number of beads that distorts its total being. The artist’s process of first encountering the object on the internet is significant, as it allows for a comprehensive, 360 degree exploration of the artificial versus the natural, seeing the deer, an organic being, turn from a computer image to a real form, before reverting it back to the virtual world through its “PixCellization”. Overall, as discussed by Hiroko Tabuchi, the work of this series is Nawa’s self-proclaimed take ‘on our obsession with viewing and filtering the world through pixels — on digital cameras, on our smartphones, online — which at once distorts and illuminates the world we live in.’ii 


    “At the molecular level, all natural and man-made articles are groups of particles. Also, if you look at animal cells, they are full of DNA and other forms of information.” 
    — Kohei Nawa

    With this work, Nawa also interrogates the nature of organic cells, investigating ‘the concept that the cell itself represents information, and also gives the material its shape’.iii Creating this sculpture using granular materials, the artist places emphasis on the smaller units that comprise its composite whole, and each bead magnifies and warps the deer’s original form, presenting the viewer with a new view and understanding of the object. This magnification allows for a new perception of the deer at a molecular level, like the information stored in organic cells holds specific information that relates to its whole. 

    Bubbles and Foam 


    Kohei Nawa’s exposure to contemporary artists during his education at the Royal College of Art in London in 1998, particularly the British sculptor Antony Gormley, greatly influenced his approach to sculpture, and his comprehension of the relationship between the body and space.  Nawa plays with volume and perception of space in his PixCell series, increasing the size and changing the representation of his found objects with a new bounding skin layer of glass beads. In a similar way, Gormley, using his own body as a starting point for his work, explores the human body’s relationship to nature and the surrounding world, and as the artist stated, ‘the body as a place rather than an object’.iv 

    Antony Gormley, Foreign Body I and Foreign Body II, 2000


    Most interesting to consider when discussing Nawa’s work in relation to Gormley’s, is Gormley’s investigation of bubbles and foam as an ‘intriguing geometry of tetrahedral nodes’ that ‘form a bounding skin’.v For example, Gormley’s APERTURE works (2009-2012) depict ‘the moment in which a body opens itself to the space around it’, utilising the structure of bubbles to create a body that is both rooted to the earth and open to the space around it.vi Likewise, Nawa uses cellular bubble structures as the building blocks of PixCell Deer #40, but despite the apparent airiness of the crystalline spheres, he creates a solid form, not negative space. Additionally, Gormley’s Foreign Body and Ball Works (2000-2010) series are comparable to Nawa’s PixCell works through the British sculptor’s use of multitudinous hand-forged iron balls to construct a larger entity, highlighting themes of ‘entropy and aggregation’ and drawing attention to the molecular level of beings, as achieved by Nawa in his sculptures.vii

    The Sacred Deer


    Nawa also draws inspiration from the Japanese Shinto faith, and a type of religious painting known as Kasuga Deer Mandala which typically depicts a white deer standing, looking over its shoulder. Deer are of great significance to the Shinto religion, as they are considered sacred animals, messengers of the gods and thus conduits between them and people on earth. Mt. Mikasayama, the site of the Kasuga-taisha shrine established in AD710 by the Fujiwara, is a Shinto shrine, home of the kami (the Shinto gods) and a place of worship, that was designated as a ‘natural monument in 1924, a special natural monument in 1956, and as a World Cultural Heritage Site in 1998’.viii To this day, the deer in this region are protected as messengers of the gods, testament to the abiding respect many hold towards these animals. By using deer as his subject, Nawa achieves the fascinating synthesis of science, nature and religion, not often amalgamated in the field of art. Indeed, there is something distinctly divine and powerful about PixCell-Deer #40, stirring in the viewer a reverence and marked respect.



    Deer Mandala of Kasuga Shrine,  Nanbokuchō period (1336–92)
    Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

    Collector’s Digest 


    As one of Japan’s most prolific artists, Kohei Nawa’s multidisciplinary work has been featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions around the world, and can be found in the public collections of prominent art institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA); The Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (Tokyo, Japan); Daimler Art Collection (Berlin, Germany); and National Gallery Victoria (Melbourne, Australia). Further, Nawa has been the recipient of innumerable prestigious awards, most recently winning the 32nd Kyoto Art Culture Award in 2019, an international award that recognizes the highest achievements of individuals who have made great contributions to the fields of Advanced Technology, Basic Sciences, and Arts and Philosophy, with only one Prize awarded for each of the three categories. His PixCell works have appeared in international exhibitions, notably at the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (Museum of Hunting and Nature) in Paris in 2018, alongside his Vessel series, after the success of his Throne exhibition at the Louvre, Paris, that same year. 



    Installation view of Kohei Nawa, Throne, as part of Paris, Louvre Museum, Japonisms: 2018: souls in harmony, 13 July 2018 – 14 January 2019 underneath I.M. Pei’s glass pyramids of the Museum’s entrance
    © Kohei Nawa



    i Kohei Nawa, ‘Works; PixCell’, KOHEI NAWA, online
    ii Hiroko Tabuchi, ‘Kohei Nawa Shifts Stereotypes and Shapes’, New York Times, 28 October 2013, online
    iii Donata Marletta, ‘Kohei Nawa. A Japanese Artist Beyond Cultural Stereotypes’, Digicult, 2015, online
    iv Suzanne Lovell Inc, ‘Fine Art; Gormley’s exploration of the body in space’, S.L. Daily, 07 February 2016, online
    v Antony Gormley, ‘Projects; APERTURE 2009-2012’, ANTONY GORMLEY, online
    vi Ibid.
    vii Antony Gormley, ‘Projects; BALL WORKS, 2000-2010’, ANTONY GORMLEY, online
    viii Hiroshi Omura, ‘Trees, Forests and Religion in Japan’, Mountain Research and Development, 24(2), 1 May 2004


    • Provenance

      Arario Gallery, Shanghai
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Shanghai, Arario Gallery, Kohei Nawa: Movement, 17 November 2015 – 31 January 2016


PixCell-Deer #40

mixed media
134 x 56 x 72 cm. (52 3/4 x 22 x 28 3/8 in.)
Executed in 2015, this work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Arario Gallery.

Full Cataloguing

HK$1,400,000 - 2,800,000 

Sold for HK$3,024,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 8 June 2021