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Otafuku No 2 (Moon-Faced Woman No.2)

Otafuku No 2 (Moon-Faced Woman No.2)
ceramic decorated with platinum liquid (original wooden base)
sculpture: 118 x 125 x 127 cm. (46 1/2 x 49 1/4 x 50 in.)
base: 20 x 140 x 140 cm. (7 7/8 x 55 1/8 x 55 1/8 in.)
Executed in 2010
Tomio Koyama Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Private Collection, Europe

This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Tomio Koyama Gallery.
Bijutsu Shuppan Sha, Yoshitomo Nara: The Complete Works Volume 1 - Paintings Sculptures, Editions, Photographs, California, USA, 2011 (illustrated, plate C-2010-004, p.301)
Foil Co. Ltd, Ceramic works: Artworks by Yoshitomo Nara, Tokyo, Japan, 2010 (illustarted, pp. 19-21, 23, 38, 90)
Tokyo, Japan, Yoshitomo Nara “Ceramic Works”, Tomio Koyama Gallery, 5 May – 19 June 2010.
Leiden, Netherland, Cool Japan - Worldwide Fascination in Focus, Museum Volkenkunde, 14 April – 18 September 2017.

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Annie Lee

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Lot Essay

Many objects, in the history of art, have become enduring motifs for artists who have used them with great creative flexibility: pumpkins, dots, water drops, poppy flowers, and even Mao Zedong have become incantations, invoking the names of the great artists we associate with each of them. A stream of such symbols has become embedded in our larger history, leaving a record of our cultures and civilizations in such forms as the pyramids, the cross, or Japan's 'good fortune cats.' One such symbol, in traditional Japanese culture, is the otafuku, a smiling female goddess who stands for prosperity and the generous sharing of happiness and good fortune with others. Her plain and simple face has found a place in the Japanese heart as a symbol of family warmth, sincerity and good fortune. Traditional Japanese families act out a ritual for good fortune between late November and the new year, attaching an otafuku to a straw broom and then moving through the house in a clockwise direction, praying to the goddess for health and happiness while sweeping the house clean and symbolically soaking up her good luck and energy. The rest of the year, the otafuku mask is hung high on the walls of restaurants and homes to bring them good luck.

The little girl that appears in Yoshitomo Nara's art is likewise a cultural and artistic symbol familiar to people throughout Japan. As one of the top-flight contemporary artists born in the post-war period, Nara had by 2010 already reached a high point in his painting. He did not limit himself to that form, however, and courageously expanded into other creative mediums; photography, sculpture, and installations became part of his creative vocabulary. In particular, a predilection for creating massive sculptures from polymer clay was reflected in his later work, and Nara re-shaped a number of flat otafuku masks into three-dimensional sculptures. In an interview in which he reflected on his earlier sculptures, Nara revealed that he gradually came to stress the overall symbolic qualities of such works, and further, that he became aware during the sculptural process of the importance of overall physical form and of the back of the sculpture. 'I discovered that the back was the most important, that I couldn't just think about the front. This is the sculptural mode of thinking, so when sculpting I'm constantly turning my work from one side to the next around the full 360 degrees as I proceed with the work.' Nara's Otafuku No. 2 (Lot XXX), like those smiling female goddesses, features a soft face with full-moon roundness in gentle, curving lines. Its features, however, have been replaced by those of the little girl typical of Nara's classic works, the look in her eyes open yet half veiled, as if itching to say many things despite the seeming calmness and peace of her gaze. The smiling expression of this otafuku, with her wide cheeks and full forehead, her narrowed eyes and flattened nose, dovetail with the classic ideal of the gentle, refined, and dignified Japanese woman of earlier days; the sculpture blends a symbolic and mythical figure with a popular motif borrowed from contemporary art.

Nara's experience in physically shaping polymer clay allowed him to express a wide variety of its forms and textures in Otafuku No. 2. Viewed from the rear, the marks left by his hands kneading the clay are clearly distinguishable, and in reflecting the basic qualities of a material itself there is always a kind of pure power that touches the deepest parts of our memories. The strong markings left by the sculptor's hand here differ vastly from the smooth, shiny busts some artists reproduce in fiberglass-reinforced plastics. Nara once described polymer clay as a kind of living material, so that as he worked the malleable lumps of clay and sensed their physicality, he would see himself almost entering into a kind of struggle. The rough texture of his subject's hair shows the artist's rediscovering the feeling of playing with mud as a child, portraying his struggle with the clay in a direct and lively manner. The great sculptor Giacometti was similarly concerned with texture and modeling as he shaped his figures; the marks of his pressure and shaping cover the entire portrait of his younger brother, Bust of Diego. Its rough, bumpy textures make it seem as if the sculptor has only just finished kneading the material, giving it a uniquely hand-worked feel. Like Giacometti's sculpture, the stable form and thick mass of Otafuku No. 2, with its lustrous metallic finish, also confronts viewers with a uniquely weighty presence and stable form, exuding the existential physicality of traditional sculpture.

Nara's Otafuku No. 2 was one of the most attention-getting pieces when shown in 2010 at a ceramic arts exhibition at the Tomio Koyama Gallery. It shows a high degree of finish, a ceramic work with textures both smooth and rough and covered entirely with the silvery shades of its platinum glaze coating. The play of light and shadow on this metallic surface, across the slightly indented eyes, the subtly protruding forehead, and the ballooning cheeks produces flashes of dark and light color. Its metallic coloring sets it apart from traditional ceramic sculpture, and like the work of Anish Kapoor, its expresses a futuristic sense and the coming age of new sculptural materials. The internationally recognized post-war Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki laughingly spoke of Nara's metallic-colored work, comparing it to a memorial shrine where people make wishes and noting how greatly it differed from other ceramic sculpture. The lines of Nara's work follow a cleverly handled flow that slopes downward from the top of the head to the forehead, then to the bridge of the nose and around the cheeks and chin. The softly flowing outlines vary between relaxed and taut, exhibiting a beauty of form unique to sculpture, with many appealing points of interest. The surface, for example, shows elegant patterning in its 'ice-crack' glazing, just as is seen in Chinese porcelains from the Song Dynasty. Thus beyond the fine overall shaping of his work, Nara has also given his moon-faced female subject an elegantly decorative surface.

The beauty of sculpture lies in its ability to project a unique three-dimensional representation from any particular viewing angle, and the presentation of this singular sculpted head can be traced to the core themes of the artist's two-dimensional works: the self and the question of personal existence. Nara adopts the otafuku motif familiar to everyone in Japanese culture but combines it with the standoffish, indifferent figure familiar from his own works, constructing possibilities for communication capable of drawing anyone in. Nara's appropriation of national cultural identity and his concern for the self merge in a work which combines traditional culture with an image of contemporary social apathy, a work that speaks intimately to the predicaments of the modern person. In the presence of this silent sculpture, we see a little girl gazing into the distance, into the future, as Yoshitomo Nara demonstrates perfectly the possibility of fusing the traditional and the contemporary.

1.Otafuku, also known as Okame, Ofuku, Otan, or Otayan, and traditionally associated with the legendary dancing figure name Ame no Uzume no Mikoto.
2. Bijutsutecho, 2012 Vol. III

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