Stephen Friedman Gallery is proud to present its fourth exhibition of new work by internationally acclaimed Japanese artist, Yoshitomo Nara. He returns to the gallery following recent solo exhibitions at Yokohama Museum of Art, Japan; Asia Society Museum, New York; Asia Society Hong Kong Center and Reykjavik Art Museum, Iceland. Along with Yayoi Kusama and Takashi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara is considered one of the most important living contemporary Japanese artists. This exhibition consists of new paintings on canvas, paintings on cotton mounted wood panel and works on paper.
While Nara's work is often associated with Japanese pop culture including anime and manga, his output should be viewed through the lens of his childhood in post-war Japan. Nara was born in 1959 in the rural north of the country. A lonely latchkey kid, his early years were informed by illustrated children's books and Western music playing from the radio of a nearby military base. Following a period studying in Germany under A. R. Penck, Nara developed his trademark language and technique, creating complex characters in a deep investigation of childhood sensitivities. In his paintings, figures stare out to us wide-eyed, or smoke, swear and scowl.
Nuanced considerations of alienation, anger and curiosity are undertaken with each work. The apparent naivety of the character and animals he depicts are juxtaposed with slogans and often salty language. The contrast deftly illustrates the angst of adolescent experience. The characters are at once cheeky, vulnerable and threatening. In this way Nara's work crosses cultural and national boundaries in its examination of emotional truth, and essentially human dilemmas.
“This solo exhibition is comprised of ‘paintings' (on canvas), ‘billboard paintings' (patched cotton mounted on wood panel) and ‘drawings' (on paper). Upon hearing this description, most people would think that this sounds like an ordinary exhibition for a painter. However these new paintings on canvas are more painterly than other works I have shown previously. They are marked by a conscious use of colour and subtle layering, which has become important in my recent practice. In contrast to my work on canvas, I originally called the paintings on wood panel ‘billboard paintings', due to their catchy and iconic imagery and the use of flat planes of colour that is reminiscent of the style often used on billboards. Although the ‘billboard paintings' in this show are still evocative of this style, these ones which are rendered on patchwork cotton are much more painterly, with many layers of colour.
Drawing is natural to me. Without being conscious of the eventual audience, I usually follow my emotions and just draw. For this show I am exhibiting a series of drawings that I think of as being mental images without colour. It is probably the first time that I have shown so many of these drawings all at once. I work in sculpture and installation, but for this exhibition I became very conscious of showing myself as a painter.” Yoshitomo Nara, April 2016.
Nara's work seamlessly fuses elements of western Modernism with references borrowed from popular culture. Most notably, the artist has underlined the important influence music has had on his practice. Ranging from Rock and Punk to the artist's fascination with folk and amateur music subcultures, his diverse taste has an ongoing effect on both the content and style of his work. When viewed in this context, the lyrics and slogans that accompany the subjects of his paintings can be seen to resemble album covers. In this way Nara reflects on the force that music and pop culture wield during adolescent life and the crucial role they play in forming one's identity. This is particularly pertinent in the global environment that children now grow up in, in which they are exposed to multiple influences from around the world via the internet. The result is a distinctive language that is imbued with an immediate and strangely universal familiarity.
Drawing and painting have long been concurrent and equally important in Nara's practice. In making his return to Stephen Friedman Gallery, Yoshitomo Nara's work is as fresh, relevant and affecting as ever. His re-evaluation of contemporary portrait painting has been critical in Japan and his work continues to appeal to our contemporary sensibility worldwide. In Nara's own words “If you look only at the surface, my work will not really reveal itself to you”.
During Gallery Weekend Berlin Galerie Nordenhake presents its fifth solo exhibition of photographer Michael Schmidt (1945-2014). Schmidt’s works are characterised by the persistent quest of finding a new approach to reality by means of photography.
Since the mid 1990s his oeuvre includes works that the artist created by using images from his working archive. The process of re-contextualising his individual shots forms an integral part of Schmidt’s artistic practice. The interval between the shooting of the pictures and the revision enables a different perspective on the original subject. The artist also aims to reactivate the aesthetic potential of the archived material by employing different artistic criteria and creating new compilations of the works. This editorial process of not merely selecting but also re-arranging the photographs ultimately leads to a novel interpretation.
This process is employed in NATUR, a project that Schmidt completed shortly before his death in 2014. The exhibition of the delicate small-scale prints from negatives dating back to 1987-97 is preceded by the creation of a photo book, a practice at the core of Schmidt’s work. The choice of the title indicates that the artist goes beyond the mere depiction of a specific landscape and articulates an idea of nature in a distinctive pictorial language. Schmidt’s black and white images contain a wealth of silver tones and rich greys imbuing the images with an almost physical sense of gravity or lightness. The selection of the subjects, the employment of focus and blur and above all the implementation of light convey an existential understanding of nature and its significance for us.
Michael Schmidt was born in 1945 in Berlin, where he died in 2014. He is regarded as one of the seminal German post-war photographers. His works can be found in national and international collections and have been presented in numerous solo and group exhibitions. A major retrospective of Michael Schmidt's work curated by Thomas Weski is planned for 2020 and will be shown in one of the museums of the Nationalgalerie Berlin.
In 1976, Michael Schmidt founded the Werkstatt für Fotografie at VHS Berlin-Kreuzberg, which became a major forum for international discussions on photography in (West) Berlin. In 1987 he exhibited WAFFENRUHE (CEASEFIRE) at Berlinische Galerie. In 1988 the Museum of Modern Art, New York presented the work in the exhibition „New Photography 4“. In 1996 EIN-HEIT was shown for the first time at MoMA, New York under its English title U-NI-TY. This was the first solo-exhibition of a German photographer at MoMA since decades. In the same year, EIN-HEIT was presented for the first time in Germany at Sprengel Museum Hanover. In 1995 a first survey exhibition of his work was on view at Museum Folkwang Essen, after the museum had shown exhibitions of Schmidt in 1981 and 1988. In 2010 Michael Schmidt presented his comprehensive survey exhibition “Grey as Colour. Photographs since 2009” at Haus der Kunst, Munich.
Michael Schmidt participated in the 55th Venice Biennial in 2013, and the Berlin Biennial in 2006 and 2010. LEBENSMITTEL (FOOD) was presented in solo exhibitions at Museum Morsbroich, Leverkusen (2012), Galerie im Taxispalais, Innsbruck (2013) and at Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin (2013). In 2014 the artist was awarded with the prestigious Prix Pictet for his work LEBENSMITTEL. The Prix Pictet exhibition ”Consumption" was on view at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and then travelled extensively in both Europe and internationally.
The Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive was founded in 1999, and since the artist’s death is organising and preserving the artist’s archive.
OPENING: APRIL 29, 6-9 pm
Opening hours during Gallery Weekend: April 30th & May 1st 11-19 h