Yoshitomo Nara at the Guggenheim 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. Organised 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 is one of the most celebrated artists of his generation, and his impressive images of children with large heads and big eyes—at times menacing, challenging, and defiant, but also melancholic and uncertain—are widely recognised.

Why is Yoshitomo Nara so famous?

Yoshitomo Nara is a pioneering figure in contemporary art whose signature style—which expresses children in a range of emotional complexities from resistance and rebellion to quietude and contemplation—celebrates the introspective freedom of the imagination and the individual.


Nara’s characters, his figures and animals, are a reflection of himself: Childhood memories, his life experiences, his knowledge of music, art, and society, in Japan and abroad, are the sources of his creativity.

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.


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

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, antiwar 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.


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.

Why is Yoshitomo Nara so expensive?

It was in 2015—the year his work produced no fewer than nine 7-digit results—that Nara’s pricing and global renown truly took off, propelling him into the top 100 artists in the world by auction sales.

Exhibition Dates: June 28th – November 3rd, 2024
Curator: Lucía Agirre
Sponsor: BBVA Foundation
Organized by the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in collaboration with the Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden, and the Hayward Gallery, London


See also: Lauren Baker’s Megalith Totems at Dimbola Museum

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