Yoshitomo Nara at The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

Yoshitomo Nara at The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
Yoshitomo Nara seated in front of TOBIU, 2019, donated by the artist to the TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art auction, 2021 Patched corrugated board mounted on wood 294.5 × 354 cm Courtesy the artist, Blum & Poe, and Pace Gallery © Yoshitomo Nara, 2019 Photo: Ryoichi Kawajiri Courtesy Yoshitomo Nara Foundation

Yoshitomo Nara at The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
28th June, 2024 – 3rd November, 2024
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
Avenida Abandoibarra
2 48009 Bilbao

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao presents Yoshitomo Nara, an exhibition sponsored by the BBVA Foundation, Strategic Trustee of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao from 1997. This retrospective exhibition reveals and explores the intriguing world of Yoshitomo Nara.

It takes us on a journey through his evolving creativity from the origins of his ideas. Organized by theme, rather than chronologically or according to technique and materials, the exhibition offers an insight into Nara’s conceptual and formal processes. The broad selection of paintings, drawings, sculptures, and installations made over the course of the last four decades—1984 to 2024—reflects his empathetic response to the people and places he has encountered over the years.

Yoshitomo Nara at The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
Yoshitomo Nara
Missing in Action, 1999
Acrylic on canvas
180 x 145 cm
Courtesy of Sally and Ralph Tawil
© Yoshitomo Nara, 1999
Courtesy Yoshitomo Nara Foundation

This is the first solo major exhibition of Nara’s work to be held in Spain and in a prominent European museum. The presentation was uniquely devised for the gallery space at Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. The exhibition will tour to Baden-Baden and London, where the display will be reconfigured in relation to each venue.

Yoshitomo Nara (b. 1959, Hirosaki, Aomori Prefecture, Japan) is one of the most celebrated artists of his generation. His impressive images of children with large heads and big eyes—at times menacing, challenging, and defiant, but also melancholic and uncertain—are widely recognized. Nara’s characters, his figures and animals, are a reflection of himself. They are a visual representation and a means of expression for his innermost thoughts and emotions. Childhood memories, his life experiences,
his knowledge of music, art, and society, in Japan and abroad, are the sources of his creativity. Nara has a profound interest in humanity and his work examines and incorporates ideas surrounding concepts of home, community, nature, and their interconnectedness.

Yoshitomo Nara at The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
Yoshitomo Nara
Fountain of Life, 2001/2014/2022
Lacquer and urethane on fiber-reinforced plastic (FPR), motor, and water
175 × 180 cm diameter
Collection of the Artist
© Yoshitomo Nara, 2001
Courtesy Yoshitomo Nara Foundation

This survey exhibition is arranged thematically, according to Nara’s specifications. The motifs which recur in his work—including the red-roofed house, the sprouts, the puddle, the box, the blue boat, and the forest—reveal the continuity of thought he has maintained throughout his career, and they serve to highlight his stylistic development. Nara views himself as a painter, first and foremost, but he explores each theme within a range of other materials and formats—drawing, sculpture, and installation.

Nara’s childhood memories—marked by a feeling of isolation—his travels abroad, time in Germany, and his knowledge of art history, are key to an understanding of his work. It is also deeply rooted in the music he listened to as a child: folk songs by American singer-songwriters like Bob Dylan, with their dissenting, anti-war message during the Vietnam war and support for the civil rights movement; the introspective, melancholic sounds of the blues; and grassroots folk music coming out of England and Ireland.

Yoshitomo Nara at The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
Yoshitomo Nara
Make the Road, Follow the Road, 1990
Acrylic on canvas
100 × 100 cm
Collection Aomori Museum of Art
© Yoshitomo Nara, 1990
Courtesy Yoshitomo Nara Foundation

With no understanding of the foreign-language lyrics, Nara absorbed the sounds on a sensory level. Combined with what he intuited from the album cover images, he understood the music on his own terms and invested it with personal emotion. This was long before the era of punk or new wave, from which Nara would later draw inspiration. Through music, Nara connected with a respect for humanity, community, and a sense of freedom.


This exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with texts by Lucía Agirre, exhibition curator, Mika Yoshitake, and Shigemi Takahashi, which examine Yoshitomo Nara’s oeuvre and reveal the relationships, harmonies, and dissonances in his paintings, drawings, sculptures, and installations.

As part of its Didaktika initiative, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao designs didactic spaces, online content, and special programs that complement the exhibitions and offer the public tools and resources to better appreciate the works on display. Sponsored by the Fundación EDP, the Didaktika project for the present exhibition is offered online, featuring the artist’s biography with special emphasis on the music that inspired his life and career.

Opening Talk (June 26) Yoshitomo Nara will present his exhibition to the public in an event taking place before the show opens. An exclusive opportunity to be introduced to the show by the artist himself.

Shared Reflections*
Led by museum professionals, these tours offer new perspectives on the Nara exhibition:

  • Curatorial Vision (July 3): With Lucía Agirre, Museum Curator and curator of the exhibition.
  • Key Concepts (July 10): With Luz Maguregui Urquiza, Education Coordinator.
    *Sponsored by Fundación Vizcaína Aguirre
Yoshitomo Nara at The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
Yoshitomo Nara
Miss Forest, 2010
Ceramic decorated with platinum, gold, and silver liquid
144 × 102 × 100 cm
Leeum Museum of Art, Korea
© Yoshitomo Nara, 2010
Courtesy Yoshitomo Nara Foundation

This exhibition spans the forty years since Nara’s second trip to Europe to the present day. It shows how Nara’s departure from Hirosaki and his time away from Japan were pivotal and necessary for him, providing him with the tools to rethink his role as an artist and reevaluate his relationship with communities in Japan, his interactions with the people and with nature: “I finally felt like I now possessed the things I had been missing, like anything else I might need was right at hand, and I was capable of living in a provincial area. But I think this is something I had to leave my hometown for a while in order to understand.”

Yoshitomo Nara at The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao opens on the 28th of June, 2024 until the 3rd of November, 2024

©2024 Yoshitomo Nara, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao