Meshugga (not aside), Yoshitomo Nara is a rather well-regarded creative for no other reason than he fits the contemporary narrative of less is more, especially in the areas of traditional talent and skillsets. Like many of his peers, his work focuses on his talents as a brander - a creator of his own persona rather than a traditional master of an “oeuvre”. His is a “branding art” not unlike that of Coke, Ralph Lauren or Nike symbolism. It is a genre which says “me” rather than the world beyond me. In that, it is very contemporary - a self-aggrandizing presentation rather than a reaching out, a philosophic rendering or a statement for communication... But is that all it is?
At first glance, there is nothing more “there” than what the “presenter” in the video puts forward. Ironically, the “look at me style” of her own presence tries to emulate the depth of the content of the exhibition - but doesn't seem to get it. From the very beginning, her description of the works on display is more in keeping with a benevolent preacher of the faith. Well rehearsed, she immediately proceeds, not to enlighten regarding the “artist’s” process, but rather to proselytize, i.e.: to advise us on what we should be thinking and feeling if we want to get "the message”.... i.e.: in order that we become the true Orwellian believers we should be.
For all intents and purposes, if Nara’s goal is the one described in this video, the process (if there is one) appears to shamelessly have more to do with earmarking his projects in such a way as to attract (i.e.: entice and hold) “shoppers” more than viewers and potential collectors. To that effect, his pupil-less-eyeballed children are “alluring” - even when the chill they convey feels dangerous. They say more through their blank gawking than do those "brats" he seemingly depicts as precursors to that blindness. The blank stares imply a viewer’s hypnosis induced submission to side-show freakism which, in turn, relates more to our society's reality-TV weirdness obsession than it does to “achievement”. And in that sense, Nara is all about $UCCE$$. Or is he?
Does all of the above mean his work is worth the moneys purportedly paid out for his psycho-social meanderings? One would have to say: probably, since those he purportedly seeks to attract are not “knowing collectors” but rather buyers who actually do fork out the euros, dollars, and yen (and willingly so), for whatever the subject matter or quality of the work he and others put forward. Un-hunh?
Does this, therefore, mean the decision-making of these “investors” reflects a lack of knowledge in art? Not necessarily. Again, it’s a matter of perceived cleverness, of financial smarts. The moneys being spent by those who heft the piles of cash have less to do with what the artist is saying and more to do with “how much they can eventually get when they flip the “product”. But then, that's par for the course. Buying artwork at this level has more to do with gambling and daring than perceptive genius. It’s a marketplace strategy - a serious lark where players engage in an arena in which few if any of us can be considered players and, therefore, ever fewer of us who can pooh-pooh the involved marketing concepts outright. Why? Simple. This is not our backyard. We have no idea what the players are thinking of and few if any of us would ever be allowed to even play in their alleyways. Neither our work nor our psyche fit this schtick anyway.
That being said, the old adage holds: “Value is what someone is willing to pay”, whether its for a fluorescent pink Hummer or a diamond studded Volks; whether the commodity is a linen rag or what’s painted on that rag. It all rather has more to do with the information emanating from the minds of “marketplace manipulators” than it does the traditional esoteric search for human genius. It's capitalism with a capital C. North Americans should know that by now. Or do we?
All in all, it depends on how we perceive the world and how easily we can be led into what a specific era’s game playing is about. Nonetheless, and regardless of the "poor-is-me" caste we hold onto when “we” pedal our own wares, it must be acknowledged that artwork which achieves the amount of “notice” Nara's does should at least be awarded more than a participation diploma.
Also, and more importantly, and whether we like it or not, anything can be deemed to be “art" if, in its universality, it reflects the level to which a society has either risen or fallen in its quest to be an "era" of note. Though I have little empathy for Nara’s style of work, I cannot fault his reflections. If artwork be “art”, it must speak to the times and generally when it does, it does so throughout eternity. As far as Nara is concerned, he definitely speaks to the freakish nature of our self-effacing and destructive contemporary natures. That being said, what his actual goal is I can only guess.
Despite it all, there is always a saving grace for "we artists", that is... If our “artwork” eventually stands the test of time (even despite never garnering a price tag of millions - see Rembrandt, van Gogh, et al), it will nonetheless have as much merit as those of Nara and company, since time is unbiased, non-judgmental and egalitarian, it judges none and only seeks reflections of its "true" self as a neutral ground for experience.
But then, from the beginning, we must accept that artwork wishing to be art must have more to say than lots about me, myself and I. For artworks to be art, they cannot simply be a salve to make us feel better. The "Art" within artwork is a tangible yet enigmatic statement, a sharing, a reaching out beyond the self - a commitment to observed fact and truth, not simply a rendition of a perfect morning glory, using the right blues and purples.
Sadly, most of us are content to be avid copyists or contemporary pretenders to the throne of expressive childhood "personableness" - (may I insert here: without the talent or spontaneity required to be and do as a child). How so?
Being adults, we are stuck with a limited palette of colours and often a sorely wanting set of visual expression skills. Children do not need to learn self-expression. Adults, on the other hand, are often clueless in the area. Though we look hard, we don't often "see". And that is where we fail to ever reach "artisthood".
Artwork creation is an exercise in advancing skills. On the other hand, creating what wishes to be "art" is more a matter of seeing beyond the ordinary and sharing that extraordinariness with others. But in our times, this is becoming more and more difficult. Natural curiosity and imagination are quickly being eroded, ripped asunder from our normal human processes of growing. How so?
Evolving in the 21st century seems to have taken a turn for the worse - both psychologically and physically, both internally and socially, both geographically and ecologically. Our children's souls are heavy with emptiness though our their minds are filled with worried busyness. And so, as creatives, We don't dare anymore. Though we run faster, we simply get nowhere sooner and wonder about the anxious states we experience. It's as if we are killing off the power to create rather than stimulating it. Whether we like it or not, to create art is to dive ever more deeply into ever more complex situations despite the fear we may actually drown in the process. That is the act of living fully. That excitement is what encourages more and more of our "self" to glow. In essence, to be art, our artwork must be about more than the safe environs me, myself and I create for ourselves.
That said, don’t the Nara fetish figures not solely mirror his “own weird self”, his own stagnation? I wager not. Nara is not blind. Like Warhol, he shares his obsessions with “us” - his contemporary kin. . . And how easily we react if not identify with the weirdness of his figures is a reflection of how correct he is in his observations.
Nara’s repetitious "I wanna be nasty” child is like a never ending tantrum - cute at 5 but beyond that age bracket it becomes a disquieting “disturbance”, a bizarre reflection of the social and mental construct of our adulthoods which seem increasingly focused on narcissism as analgesic. With 40 being the new 20 and 60 the new 40, we are become the brats we raised while stoking our fear of the inevitability of death; wasting creative potential and the enjoyment of the fullness of time we do have between now.... and then.
The overall effect of Yoshitomo Nara's pieces is admittedly disturbing, not because they are, but because our times are disturbing... His work speaks to a world order that is slowly eating away at anything which remotely pretends to be life-giving, trusting, affectionate, bred of healthy intercourse and environmental survival.
Does that make Nara's work "valuable"? Yes. Why? Because it is a reference to our times; to the disturbance which affects how we will survive, or not, in the near and far future...
The "I, Me, Moi" rationale of our era seems unending in its quest to swallow us up. There is too much evidence at play re the disappearance of a valid self in our times where, in lieu, a pastiche, a mock-up of our reality seems to have more going for it than the real us. At times, it feels as if we are nothing more than carcasses upon which we endlessly erase the beauty that once was there by applying more and more “skin graffiti” to it. Why? In a quest to completely rid ourselves of the natural perfection that we are (flawed, though it is)?
Nara's blinding if not blind brats know this.
In the end, this astute artist does now what thousands of others did in their own previous centuries. Like Picasso, Delacroix, Hopper, Goya, Warhol, he knows what is most important in "art" (that so abused word) and that is to hand out mirrors to us all.
And so, just maybe, Nara's freaky child with the non-seeing eyes is simply the mirror image of our children raised from toddlerhood to adolescence to adulthood - raised to click away at a virtual nothing world, while the real one passes them by unnoticed... But then... Just maybe, I read Nara's work incorrectly.... Maybe not..... Only the mirrors we look into can tell.
Bernard Poulin. . .