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International Demand for Nara Sparks Rising Prices

The career of Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara (b. 1959) “exploded in the United States” before drawing international attention, says Timothy Blum, co-owner of Blum & Poe gallery in Los Angeles, which has represented the artist since 1995.

NEW YORK—The career of Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara (b. 1959) “exploded in the United States” before drawing international attention, says Timothy Blum, co-owner of Blum & Poe gallery in Los Angeles, which has represented the artist since 1995. “In the beginning, the buyers were almost exclusively American,” he notes. Somewhere around the turn of the millennium, however, that collector base began to expand, first to Europe and then to Asia.

Nara has “become a worldwide phenomenon, and our distribution is pretty even between the United States and the rest of the world,” says Blum. The Asia Society, New York, recently held a retrospective of the artist’s work, entitled “Nobody’s Fool” (Sept. 9, 2010–Jan. 2, 2011), which garnered acclaim and further fueled interest and demand for his work.

Nara is currently shown by numerous galleries, including the Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York; Galerie Michael Zink, Munich; Tomio Koyama Gallery, Tokyo and Kyoto; and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. All of them work directly with the artist, and the result is that each gets to show and sell Nara’s output, but there is often a space of years between exhibits at any given location. Marianne Boesky, for instance, had an exhibition of drawings, large-scale paintings and installations in 2009. “We sold it out,” gallery director Adrian Turner said, noting that its previous Nara show was in 2005. “Our next show, if everything works out right, may be in 2013,” Turner said.

Prices have been on the rise, Turner says. Drawings “start at $10,000” and can go up by some multiple of that, “depending upon size and the complexity of the work. Acrylic paintings range in price from $175,000/500,000; the rare unique small sculpture may be priced at $10,000, and ceramic sculptures go for $60,000/80,000, while the large-scale works in fiberglass sell for $600,000/1 million. “Prices have gone up significantly, and there has been quite a lot of activity on the secondary market,” he noted, adding that “we’ve had sales in the $1.5 million range.”

Nara’s work reflects the still and live-action cartoon world of manga and anime, as well as a general interest in Pop Art subjects. Nara often presents these figures in isolation, off the grid in a highly networked society, with expressions of anger and helplessness on their faces.

Pieces by Nara have come up with increased regularity at contemporary-art auctions in New York, London and Hong Kong. The highest price to date is $1.49 million (estimate: $400,000/600,000) for the 2001 acrylic on canvas Princess of Snooze at Christie’s in 2007, followed by $1.16 million (estimate: $1 million/1.5 million) for the 2001 sculptural Light My Fire at Sotheby’s in 2008 and $1.16 million (estimate: $400,000/600,000) for the 2001 acrylic on canvas Night Walker at Sotheby’s in 2007.

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