Kohei Nawa - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Wednesday, June 22, 2022 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.


    Embellished with a teeming layer of translucent glass beads, Kohei Nawa’s iconic PixCell deer is an effervescent spin on traditional taxidermy wall-mounts. A play on ‘pixel’, the smallest element of a digital image, and ‘cell’, the smallest unit of a living organism, the PixCell series is a marriage of polarities, exploring the complex relationships between the natural and the artificial, the real and the virtual, the singular and the whole. PixCell-Deer #21 is a sophisticated embodiment of Nawa’s shimmering oeuvre, composed of a meticulously ‘PixCellized’ taxidermy deer head, emerging from the wall in a sea of mesmerising, crystalline orbs that distort not only the object’s original form but perhaps its meaning as well.


    The PixCell Series 


    “What interests me is the parallel relationship between the object used as the motif and the object after it that has been transformed into a PixCell work. I am always thinking about how a person viewing the work perceives and becomes aware of image and materiality, and of the icon and the virtual image, and I also think about sight and the paralysis of touch. At the foundation of my works is life and the environment that envelops it.”  — Kohei Nawa


    Covered in foam and froth, the artist creates for his subject a new layer of skin -- an element which he cites as vital to the theme of his works. On the importance of skin to his PixCell series, Nawa explains: ‘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.’ i


    Detail of the present lot


    Indeed, Nawa’s deer are a compelling translation of a virtual object into reality, blurring the lines between the organic and the synthetic. Imbuing the supposedly solid form with an air of lightness and weightlessness, the artist makes the work dynamic, as if it could float into the air and transcend dimensions. Further, the glass orbs vary in size, placing an emphasis on the smaller units that comprise the whole -- the beads magnify and distort the deer’s form, and the viewer observes the deer as if it were going through a metamorphosis, crossing the threshold from the virtual world into ours. Mirroring the way that Nawa first encounters the deer in pixel form as a photograph on the internet, the viewer is presented with the deer that the artist has ‘PixCellized’, altered and warped by a boundless sea of airy glass.



    The Sacred Deer


    Deer are of great significance in Japanese tradition and culture, considered sacred animals and messengers of the gods in the Shinto faith. Nawa’s works borrow heavily from this religious idea, further amalgamating his polarising exploration of the natural and artificial by incorporating elements of the spiritual.


    In the Shinto religion, there exists a type of painting known as Kasuga Deer Mandala, which typically depicts a deer standing, gaze cast over its shoulder. As conduits between heavens and earth, deer are protected in Japan and regarded with respect by the people. Indeed, there is an ethereal, powerful quality to Nawa’s PixCell deer— perhaps, much like the Kasuga Deer Mandala, they are tributes to these divine creatures, albeit with a distinctly contemporary twist.



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


    In Conversation: The Digital and The Real


    In 2021, Kohei Nawa spoke to Marie-Charlotte Burat in an interview, sharing the inspirations and significance behind his PixCell series and its conceptual relations to the digital sphere.


    Marie-Charlotte Burat: How did this series come about? It encompasses the notions of pixels, cells, and selling. Is making purchases online to create artwork a way of questioning our current consumption patterns?


    Kohei Nawa: In the PixCell series of sculptures, transparent spheres (cells) are used to cover the surface of an object, transforming it into a PixCell (pixels + cells). The object is acquired through the Internet, and then given a skin of a large, indeterminate number of cells, resembling an image on a computer monitor. When the object is completely covered with spheres (cells) of various sizes, dividing its skin into individual cells, it is ready to be ‘viewed’ through lenses that enlarge and distort it.


    This series, whose origin was influenced by globalism and the growing significance of data, produces a visual and tactile experience that queries the reality of the skin of the object, while reflecting the relationship between the digital camera lens and the object that is digitised by it. The term ‘PixCell’ was coined from a combination of ‘pixel’ and ‘cell.’ ‘Sell’ is not part of the concept at all. When I first got my own Internet connection as a graduate student, I had the idea of collecting sculpture motifs by searching the Internet using a number of conceptual terms as the search keywords. Looking at the many images suggested by the search engine, I tried to obtain those that I found particularly interesting or that produced some sort of reaction in me. Those occasions were the starting points for new works. In some cases, the encounter with a new motif came not from purchasing, but from someone giving it to me.


    MCB: Why did you want to create this mise en abyme with an object purchased online that would become a pixel again in real life?


    KN: When computers seeped into our lives, bringing a major transformation to society, I could physically sense the swelling wave of information, advanced information. At the same time, I felt that to some extent I was just a bystander in the process. That led me to think seriously about the question of why people would convert something into information and want to possess it. To turn that question into physical form, I created the sculpture format that I call PixCell. The fabrication process involved an irrational procedure (directly covering an object with spherical lenses) that would never become widespread on computer platforms. This optical format is not simply pixels returning to life as PixCell works. Rather, it resembles the relationship between an object observed by a telescope or microscope, or the subject photographed by a camera, and the photograph or image that results.



    Click here to read the complete interview.



    Collector’s Digest


    One of the most prolific Japanese artists today, Kohei Nawa’s impressive oeuvre has been celebrated with innumerable awards and exhibitions. Currently an Associate Professor at the Kyoto University of Art and Design, Nawa was most recently awarded the 32nd Kyoto Art Culture Award in 2019, an international award that recognises 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.



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


    Nawa’s multidisciplinary works are frequently presented by prominent galleries worldwide, and they are displayed in the public collections of numerous prestigious institutions, including but not limited to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA); The Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (Tokyo, Japan); Daimler Art Collection (Berlin, Germany); and the National Gallery Victoria (Melbourne, Australia). Notably, works from the PixCell series appeared at the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature in Paris in 2018, following the success of his Throne project being exhibted at the Louvre that same year.


    The artist’s current exhibition, PixelCell_Moment, is currently on view at Palo Alto, with Pace Gallery from 13 May to 1 July, 2022.




    i Kohei Nawa, quoted in Donata Marletta, ‘Kohei Nawa. A Japanese Artist Beyond Cultural Stereotypes’, Digicult, 13 January 2016, online

    • Provenance

      SCAI The Bathhouse, Tokyo
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      London, Saatchi Gallery, The Franks-Suss Collection, 28 January - 28 March 2010


PixCell-Deer #21

mixed media and glass beads
139.5 x 75.6 x 68.1 cm. (54 7/8 x 29 3/4 x 26 3/4 in.)
Executed in 2009, this work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by SCAI The Bathhouse.

Full Cataloguing

HK$2,800,000 - 3,500,000 

Sold for HK$3,780,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 22 June 2022