Yoshitomo Nara returned to Japan in 2000, and in 2001, his first solo exhibition in a public museum “I Don’t Mind If You Forget Me,” at the Yokohama Museum of Art, generated a huge fan following for the artist.
Yoshitomo Nara, Dogs From Your Childhood, 2000. Fibreglass-reinforced plastic and acrylic on canvas laid down on panel. Courtesy of Phillips de Pury & Company.
Although Nara had been creating sculptural works for some time, since 2003, he's added an additional element to his exhibitions through his collaboration with Hideki Toyoshima and the Japanese design collective graf to create installation pieces. As Nara explains of this decision:
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 very imaginative minds perhaps can see something more than I can, and the reverse is true: to those with no imagination, my work will appear just like rubbish. I watch from behind the scenes, and it amuses me. Maybe an exhibition is not where I present my achievement but an experimental place where visitors find an opportunity to see themselves reflected as though my work were a mirror or a window. For people who cannot, or will not, really look, there will be nothing.
Yoshitomo Nara + graf, London Mayfair House, 2006. Mixed media installation. Courtesy of Stephen Friedman Gallery.
This idea of creating installation pieces to complement his paintings and drawing has since become an integral part of the display of Nara's work. In 2006, the exhibition "Yoshitomo Nara + graf: A to Z" was held in Nara's home town of Hirosaki. Taking the idea of a collaborative project to a new level, not only did Nara and Toyoshima work together on the project, but locals as well as volunteers from all over the country responded to the call for help to realize the forty-four spaces, including twenty-six huts to correspond with each letter in the alphabet - from A to Z - that were created for the show. Other collaborations around the world followed, with the installations gradually becoming more sculptural and Toyoshima eventually becoming independent from graf; Yoshitomo Nara + graf evolved into YNG. Nara has since exhibited his work in solo and group shows throughout Asia, Europe and the US, lent his images to everything from postcards and notebooks to toys and clocks, and continued to collaborate with Toyoshima on installations to compliment and add an extraordinary element to his exhibitions.
YNG, Not Everything but / Green House (detail), 2009. Mixed media. Courtesy of Marianne Boesky Gallery.