By Daniel Suen

A humble attempt to showcases the titular philosophy of the artist, Life is Only One: Yoshitomo Nara offers its audience  an understanding of the nature of Nara’s work and that of the artist himself.

Nara’s first major solo exhibition in Hong Kong, it puts together the Japanese contemporary artist’s past and present in different media and provides both a welcome introduction for the city to this world-renowned  artist and an opportunity for enthusiasts to better understand the artist’s state of mind.

If the exhibition were a the artist’s memoir, the second chamber would be the chapter that explains the reasons for a change in Nara’s life and his style. Straight across the hall are Emergency and Wounded, which feature girls, respectively, lying on an emergency room bed and collaged with a sticking plaster and recalling the aftermath of the devastating March 2011 earthquake in Nara’s native Japan. The entire chamber is softer and gentler than the first chamber, which features the eponymous Life is Only One! and White Night, gloomier and more philosophical in their reach.

Black Eyed, Anxiety Days and Girly Mountain feature softer lines, a more welcoming atmosphere and clearer composition of the subjects; while the expressions on the subjects’ faces are still open to wide interpretation, their lack of spitefulness and the grouping of the chamber signify the influence of the natural disaster on Nara’s artistic style.

"Life is Only One": Yoshimoto Nara's first major solo exhibition in Hong Kong. Photos: Daniel Suen
“Life is Only One”: Yoshimoto Nara’s first major solo exhibition in Hong Kong. Photos: Daniel Suen

The slideshows Harmlos sein and Sakhalin in the third chamber are Nara’s first exhibited photograph works. Speaking at the show’s preview, Nara stressed that he took the photographs over the years not in the expectation that they would be exhibited in public but only as a record of his everyday life and to reflect on his sensibilities and senses. If one of the purposes of the exhibition is to dispatch misconceptions about Nara’s artworks, the invitation to see the landscape and people that once welcomed him is an effective hand, grounding the artist’s sensibility to the realities of his past.

The annex is crowded with 19 drawings with many vocal works shouting out messages in bold English words or fine Japanese characters, like Baby Baby I feel Black I feel Blue Let’s Go and I am Right Wing I am Left Wing. In the narrow corridor they easily overwhelm visitors and overshadow other quieter and subtler drawings. The accompanying text explains the influence Nara drew from music and attempts to continue the narrative of the curators’ understanding of the artist, which is informative but not as convincing as in other parts of the exhibition. The drawings on the wall, however, provide a strong sense of remembrance streaming from the artist’s past, and supplement the narration.

The final chamber features the sculpture Fountain of Life and numerous Puppy sculptures, a comment on the transcendence of art beyond the one life of the artist. With a shift in media and setting, the viewer is challenged to pull himself away from Nara’s graphics and reconsider the meaning of the past and the limitation of one life on the artist’s works. The result is a thoughtful reflection and leaves the audience departing connected to Nara’s past.

Life is Only One: Yoshitomo Nara
Chantal Miller Gallery, Asia Society Hong Kong Centre, Admiralty
Until July 26

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