• Issue
  • Mar 25, 2022

The Artists of 2020: Yoshitomo Nara

YOSHITOMO NARA, Knife Behind Back, 2000, acrylic on canvas, 234

Famous for his paintings of “big-headed girls,” as scholar Yeewan Koon describes them in a 2020 Phaidon monograph, Yoshitomo Nara inspires cultist devotion among his legions of fans. While the prices for his canvases can be astronomical—Sotheby’s Hong Kong sold Knife Behind Back (2000), of a glowering girl in a red dress, for USD 25 million in October 2019—the 61-year-old artist projects a crafted indifference to celebrity. Rock music remains Nara’s inspiration and ethos. The pioneering 1990s American indie-rock group Yo La Tengo featured a drawing by Nara on the cover of their latest EP, Sleepless Night (2020), and recorded six tracks for the bright yellow vinyl record that accompanies the limited-edition catalogue for Nara’s traveling retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA; 4/15–TBA, 2021), which focused on the artist’s love of music. Curated by Mika Yoshitake, the eponymous survey of his works from 1987 to the present featured more than 800 paintings and drawings, and several bronze sculptures. The museum later acquired one of those for its permanent collection, the 2,000 kilogram, eight-meter-tall woman’s head with a conifer-like mass of hair, Miss Forest (LACMA version) (2020), which was planted on Wilshire Boulevard outside the museum.