Yoshitomo Nara - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Saturday, May 25, 2019 | Phillips

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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).


The Little Pilgrims (Night Walking)

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.

HK$7,000,000 - 10,000,000 

Sold for HK$10,950,000

Contact Specialist

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 26 May 2019