Yoshitomo Nara - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Tuesday, November 30, 2021 | Phillips
  • “Or maybe for me, the reason why I continuality create works depicting children is because I desire to forever remain childlike, as opposed to merely wanting to be the ‘selfish child’”
    — Yoshitomo Nara

    Yoshitomo Nara is presently one of the most influential artists in the world. His works showcase the expression of inner emotion, conveying sensitivity, fragility, and other intimate feelings in a distinctly sincere way. In presenting a pure and simple ‘expression’ of art, his works conjure emotional responses that are universal, resonating with all viewers.  Nara once said, ‘one cannot understand inner loneliness and sadness when he is young’. As a result, though Nara uses the motif of the child, he paints from an adult perspective with emotional tension. As such, his depictions of children are a contradictory mixture of innocent and rebellious.


    Yoshitomo Nara, Missing in Action, 2000
    Sold by Phillips Hong Kong in Association with Poly Auction on 8 June 2021 for HK$ 123,725,000


    Pandora's Box was created in 1990, by which time Nara had already commenced his studies at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in Germany, where he stayed between 1988 and 1994. When he first arrived in Germany, Nara became deeply influenced by the German Neo-Expressionism he was becoming acquainted with, gradually coming to explore and incorporate its characteristics into his own practice. He began to combine this his own cultural background, as well as his interest in Japanese comics and children’s drawings – which he understood as containing profound layers of interpretation despite their relatively simple illustrations. In fact, it was the directness of this visual language that inspired the artist’s exploration of the iconic nature of symbols and stylisation, which he continued to evolve in subsequent work. This period of study and exploration marked the beginning of Nara’s signature aesthetic, profoundly impacting his future works.


    A picture containing text, oldDescription automatically generated


    Utagawa Hiroshige, Fifty-Three Stations of the Toukaidou, 1948-1952

    Collection of the Fujisawa Ukiyo-e Museum, Fujisawa, Japan 


    Studying alone in Germany, Nara faced difficulty expressing himself verbally and communicating with others as he was not fluent in the language, which consequently left him feeling intensely lonely. As a result, he turned to his paintings as an outlet for his emotions, considering the children or small animals in his compositions as self-portraits. Pandora’s Box, an iconic early work by Nara, epitomises the mood of the artist at the time. Behind the girl is a highly saturated background, depicting open waters and skies – a space with infinite depth, suggesting infinite possibilities. And yet, the focus is still on the main character.


    The little girl’s feet are submerged in a rippling puddle, making her tiny body appear like a floating island in the vast ocean. In his successive works, Nara has repeatedly used returned to this motif of the ‘puddle’, even naming his first major solo exhibition in 1995 ‘In the Deepest Puddle’, demonstrating that the artist considers the ‘puddle’ as one of the most representative symbols in his work. In Pandora’s Box, the figure is still a young girl with a rich heart and expressive face, grimacing humorously with stubborn eyes that look straight on. There is no audience around her, as if she is not willing to follow the current of the stream, evoking a profound sense of isolation. The slightly opened Pandora’s Box in the young girl’s hand is not only a symbol of the artist’s hope in the face of loneliness, but also a testimony of Nara’s courage and belief in never backing down from a difficult situation.


    Although his years of study in Germany may have seemed lonely and difficult, Yoshitomo Nara won the recognition of the European art circle with his highly individualistic style. In 1990, he began working with the d'Eendt Gallery in Amsterdam, and signed an official contract with the gallery in 1991, thus allowing him to kickstart his career as a professional artist. With Nara a veteran rock fan, a version of Pandora’s Box was also used as the cover of indie rock band, The Birdy Num Nums’s, for their album Mannaka over the World which was released in 1991. The cover of the album was still hung in Nara's home when he was interviewed in May 2000, testament of the significance of the image to him.


    A picture containing textDescription automatically generated


    The cover of the album Mannaka over the World, released by an indie rock band "The Birdy Num Nums" in 1991


    In Pandora’s Box, we can trace the artistic language and emotional symbols that the artist had already started to develop under the influence of German academic system. The whole painting is presented in flat coating, using minimalistic thick lines to outline the figures without any deliberate focus on perspective, showing Nara’s inheritance of traditional Japanese painting. However, he was also influenced by Expressionism, which can be seen in the use of bold colours, the artist’s use of extremely vivid colours and the natural dripping of paint on the background. Thanks to his exploration of collage, the use of clashing colours in this work divides the painting into contrasting blocks of hue, creating a striking visual effect that introduces a vibrant sense of dimension and expression to the painting. What is revealed, is that Nara was in the process of integrating his own Eastern cultural experiences with the avant-garde nature of the West, coming to form his own stylised visual language.


    As a projection of the artist’s self, Pandora’s Box not only strikes a harmonious balance between Eastern and Western visual languages and poetic subjectivity, it also resonates with the feelings, memories, and imaginations of viewers on a universal level – about the past, present and future. Transcending all geographical, age and cultural divisions, Nara’s art evokes vulnerability, courage, and faith – emotions shared by all human beings.


    A person sleeping on a bedDescription automatically generated with low confidence

    The album cover was hung in Nara’s room when he was interviewed in 2000

    • Provenance

      Galerie Humanité, Nagoya
      The Kurokochi Collection, Japan
      Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 5 April 2013, lot 807
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Nagoya, Galerie Humanité, Cogitationes Cordium, 1991
      Yokohama Museum of Art (p. 123, illustrated); Ashiya City Museum of Art & History; Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art; Hokkaido Asahikawa Museum of Art; Hirosaki, Yoshii Brick Brew House, I Don't Mind, If You Forget Me, 11 August 2001 - 29 September 2002
      Yokohama Museum of Art, Works by Nara Yoshitomo in Yokohama Museum of Art Collection, 21 January - 20 March 2011

    • Literature

      Kadokawa Shoten, ed., Yoshitomo Nara: In the Deepest Puddle, Tokyo, 1997, n.p. (illustrated)
      Noriko Miyamura and Shinko Suzuki, eds., Yoshitomo Nara: The Complete Works Volume 1: Paintings, Sculptures, Editions, Photographs 1984-2010, Tokyo, 2011, no. P-1990-019, p. 71 (illustrated)
      Bijutsu Shuppan-Sha, ed., Yoshimoto Nara: The Complete BT Archives 1991-2013, Tokyo, 2013, p. 81 (illustrated)
      Yeewan Koon, ed., Yoshitomo Nara, New York, 2020, pl. 54, p. 49 (illustrated)

Property of an Eminent Private Asian Collector


Pandora's Box

signed, inscribed and dated '22. Nov '90 Yoshitomo Nara "For The Birdy Num Nums" - MITTEN OVER ThE WORLD - NARA MICHI '90' on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
90 x 90 cm. (35 3/8 x 35 3/8 in.)
Painted in 1990.

Full Cataloguing

HK$7,500,000 - 10,000,000 

Sold for HK$13,560,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art
+852 2318 2026

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

Hong Kong Auction 30 November 2021