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Yoshitomo Nara (b. 1959)
Dogs from Your Childhood
four elements: acrylic on fiberglass, wood, fabric and rubber
each dog: 72½ x 38¼ x 58 in. (184.1 x 97.1 x 147.3 cm.)
bowl diameter: 11 3/8 in. (28.8 cm.)
Executed in 1999. This work is number one from an edition of three plus two artist's proofs.
Blum & Poe, Los Angeles
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1999
D. Pagel, "Childhood Into Adulthood," Los Angeles Times, 12 March 1999, p. F32 (illustrated).
L. Joynes,"Yoshitomo Nara at Ginza Art Space," Art in America, vol. 87, no. 7, July 1999, p. 106 (illustrated in color).
Lullaby Supermarket, exh. cat., Nnberg, 2001, pp. 134-135 (another example illustrated).
R. Smith," Token Japanese Guy or American Consumerism at Work," Visual Art, September 2003, p. 21 (illustrated).
Phaidon, Cream 3, New York, 2003, p. 232 (another example illustrated in color).
M. Coetzee, Rubell Family Collection: Not Afraid, New York and London, 2004, pp. 86-87 and 238 (another example illustrated in color). P. Doroshenko, Private Spaces for Contemporary Art, Brussels, 2010, pp. 216-217 (illustrated in color).
R. Smith, "Cuddling with Little Girls, Dogs and Music," New York Times, 9 September 2010.
Tokyo, Ginza Art Space, Walking Alone, January-February 1999 (another example exhibited).
Los Angeles, Blum & Poe, Yoshitomo Nara: An Exhibition of Sculpture in Two Parts, February-March 1999.
Stadtgalerie Saarbrken; Erlangen, Sttische Galerie and Leiden, Stedelijk Museum de Lakenhal, Trading Views, February-October 2000 (another example exhibited).
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Walk On: Works by Yoshitomo Nara, March-June 2000 (illustrated in color).
Aachen, Ludwig Forum; Maastricht, Bonne-fantenmuseum; Heerlen, Stadsgalerij and Li©ge, Muse d'Art modern, Continental Shift: A Voyage Between Cultures, May-September 2000, p. 82, no. 1 (illustrated in color).
Prato, Centro per l'arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci, Senritsumirari-Future Perfect, 2001 (another example exhibited).
Jerusalem, Israel Museum, Rising Sun, Melting Moon: Contemporary Art in Japan, December 2005-June 2006.
New York, Asia Society Museum, Yoshitomo Nara: Nobody's Fool, September 2010-January 2011, pp. 60 and 62-63 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

Executed in 1999, Dogs from Your Childhood is one of Yoshimoto Nara's large-scale sculptures, whose outwardly playful forms encapsulate a deeply held set of emotions that spans childhood memory, spirituality, and loneliness. Executed in his characteristically playful style, these cartoon-like renditions of three puppies provoke a strong emotional connection, tugging at the heartstrings as we gaze upon their cutesy features and playful stance. But they also possess strong spiritual and autobiographical qualities, which reach into the heart of Nara's unique brand of art-making. Both his sculptures and paintings speak to memories and emotions from our childhood that we may have forgotten, but which, as Nara proves, still exist somewhere in the deep recesses of our subconscious, and when they resurface cause us to question perceived boundaries between the established ideas of childhood and adulthood in contemporary society. A poem that Nara wrote for these sculptures, "From the Expanding Watchtower," indicates that this work connects loosely to personal reflections that allow the viewer a glimpse into the artist's consciousness.

The puppy is one of the main motifs that run through the heart of Nara's work, and Dogs from Your Childhood is one of the most important works he executed that contains this subject. Three large white dogs stand on wooden stilts in an unbroken circle surrounding a ceramic food bowl. Their playful stance, legs wide apart and heads slightly bowed, acts like an invitation to join them in a game of fetch, and combined with their bright button noses and vivid green collars, produces a childlike rendition of "man's best friend." However, despite the sentimental connotations of the puppies, Nara introduces a sense of discord into the composition, as there appears to be no interaction between the three dogs--each animal, its eyes partially closed, appears oblivious to the presence of its companions. In addition, by placing the animals on wooden stilts, Nara introduces a feeling of vulnerability into the composition, as each of the puppies looks as though it might fall over if it tried to move. This sense of dissonance prompts questions about the true nature of the sculpture's meaning and represents Nara's ongoing practice of reflecting the contradictions between childhood and adulthood that are inherent in contemporary Japanese society.

Along with his drawings of precocious children, particularly girls, Nara uses the image of the puppy as a way of accessing the aspects of memory and childhood that makes his art so compelling. Puppy dogs, apparently separated from their owners and facing the unknown, often appear in his work and relate, in part, to Nara's failed attempts as a child to adopt a stray dog. For Nara these dogs act as fragments of distant memories and dreams that he has tried to reassemble into a complete picture. They are, in short, Nara's alter-ego. We have all experienced solitude, a common condition that makes Nara's iconography easily and universally understood. These "spiritual self-portraits" of the artist emphasize the power of his art to evoke the immediacy of children's feelings that his grown-up audience may have long forgotten, but which are nevertheless preserved in the inner recesses of their minds. This results in works that consist of intriguing layers of memory, which engage his audience and take them on a journey into their own memory: "Rather than merely offering the work for the viewers to see face-on, I want to trigger their imaginations. This way, each individual can see my work with his or her own unique, imaginative mind. People with imaginative minds can perhaps see something more than I can" (Y. Nara, quoted in M. Chiu, "A Conversation with the artist," Yashimoto Nara: Nobody's Fool, exh. cat., The Asia Society, New York, 2010, p. 179).

Nara, along with fellow artist Takashi Murakami, represents part of a new wave of Pop aesthetic in Japanese art that fundamentally challenges the tradition of figurative painting. Whereas Murakami's works reconsider traditional values and Japanese talismans within the postmodern trope of manga and animé, Nara distances himself from these influences: "I don't dislike manga, but I'm not interested in it, and I don't watch animé at all" (Yoshitomo Nara, ibid., p. 175). Rather, his works reflect Nara's interest in European late medieval and Renaissance drawing traditions as well as children's books such as Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupry, or the illustrations of Japanese painter Takeshi Motai in the 1940s and 1950s. Nara's procedure itself has something obsessive, yet meditative about it. Indeed, what he paints always remains more or less the same: the artist paints faces, faces, and faces again. Gradually, slight alterations set in: circular eyes become crooked, menacingly squeezed thin; aviator caps mutate into animal ears; and pointed caps turn into the chickpea shape of a face. Yet, whatever subtle changes occur, these faces remain essentially the same--outwardly innocent, yet internally complex, reflecting the increasingly fraught and fractious nature of growing up in an ever more schizophrenic world.

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