Yoshitomo Nara - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale Hong Kong Thursday, March 30, 2023 | Phillips

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  • Strongly committed to social activism, Yoshitomo Nara has never shied away from expressing dissent or solidarity on controversial topics. His Twitter bio reflects this approach to politics, by stating: 'NO WAR! NO NUKES! LOVE & PEACE!'. Since an early age, the Japanese artist has taken a firm position on different socio-political issues, particularly with regard to anti-war, anti-nuclear and civil rights movements. The tragedy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which at the time of his infancy was still an open wound for Japan, as well as the presence of US military bases that were dispatched from the Japanese islands to Vietnam during his 1960s childhood, deeply influenced Nara’s political consciousness. Nurtured by protest songs and rock, his cultural visions have also been shaped by the global spread of hippie culture and pacifism.


    More recently, the artist took a stand against the Fukushima nuclear accident that followed the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011, and against the Afghan war. Executed in 2011, NO! testifies to Nara’s political and social engagement by showing a brown-haired young girl with a frowning look – a familiar figure in the artist’s work – who communicates her contrariety to viewers by raising her arms and clenching her fists. The word 'NO' in capital letters, painted in red, followed by an exclamation mark, further confirms the rebellious nature of her feelings. In the upper left corner, two intersecting white bones form a cross.


    The artwork was made after the Fukushima disaster, and the bones – also present in the pieces Drumming with Bones (2000), and Life is Only One! (2007), among others, subtly evoke the traditional Japanese concept of mono no aware, which refers to objects that instil poignant emotions in people and remind them of the transience of life. The depiction of skeleton parts can also suggest parallels with memento mori paintings, popular through art history, in which elements like skulls, crossbones, flowers and clocks are there to recall the concept of impermanence in the physical world. Naked skulls and crossed femurs are also a universal symbol of mortal danger.


    Philips Gysels, Memento Mori with a Skull and Crossbones, 1650-63
    Image: © Rafael Valls Gallery, London, UK / Bridgeman Images

    One of the most globally acclaimed contemporary artists, Yoshitomo Nara was born in Hirosaki, Aomori Prefecture, Japan, and received his B.F.A. and M.F.A. from the Aichi Prefectural University of Fine Arts and Music. Between 1988 and 1993, Nara studied at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, in Germany. He repatriated to Japan in 2000. Among his most recent exhibitions are the solo show Yoshitomo Nara at Yuz Museum, Shanghai, China (5 March 2022 – 2 January 2023) and the large scale sculpture Peace Head on display at Hanover Square, London, from 9 May to 28 October 2022.

    • Provenance

      Blum & Poe, Los Angeles
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Yokohama, Yokohama Museum of Art (no. 63, p. 137); Aomori, Aomori Museum of Art; Kumamoto, Contemporary Art Museum Kumamoto, NARA Yoshitomo : a bit like you and me..., 14 July 2012 - 14 April 2013




dated '2011 1/11' on the reverse
coloured pencil on cardboard
32.1 x 32.2 cm. (12 5/8 x 12 5/8 in.)
Executed in 2011, this work is registered in the Yoshitomo Nara Online Catalogue Raisonné under registration number YNF5548.

Full Cataloguing

HK$1,800,000 - 2,800,000 

Sold for HK$2,413,000

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Specialist, Head of Day Sale
+852 2318 2027

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

Hong Kong Auction 31 March 2023