This Rare Yoshitomo Nara's Painting Is Leading The Phillips Auction In June 2021
Yoshitomo Nara's seminal artwork, Missing in Action, will be leading the recently announced Phillips Hong Kong-Beijing dual-location 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, in collaboration with Poly Auction. Nara executed the painting in 2000, the same year when he finally returned to Japan after 12 years of artistic apprenticeship in Germany.
Missing in Action is one of the rarest works on canvas by Nara to come to auction, created in the same year as Nara's auction record work, crowning him the position of the most expensive Japanese contemporary artist at that time. The year 2000 was also when Nara had his first museum solo exhibition in the US, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and Santa Monica Museum of Art. This piece is part of the Missing in Action series, which serves as a valuable lens to see Nara's evolving style of his compelling portraiture.
Known for his work depicting a child-like girl with big eyes, the roots of this now-iconic figure lie in the artist's experimentation during the 1990s with removing extraneous elements from the composition in order to focus upon the emotional reality of the characters. This specific artwork represents one extreme of Nara's exploration, a girl wearing a familiar green dress looks over her shoulder in an accusatory manner. She expresses her irreverence and even dislike of an unknown entity and maybe even of her audience, unequivocally highlighted by the bleakness of the beige background.
But Nara's use of colour and texture also shows a whimsical harmony that brings to mind the melodic simplicity of indie-folk which contrasts with the child's mischievous and teasing expression that exudes a certain punk energy. The title, Missing in Action, is more commonly used as wartime jargon but it's meant to contrast the girl's chubby-cheeked face and sweet features. What Nara captures here is kimo-kawaii or cuteness with an edge.
The painting is expected to fetch similar prices to one of the auction records from the artist. Currently, the highest record for a Nara artwork is HK$195,696,000 for Knife Behind Back which was sold in 2019 at Sotheby's Hong Kong.
Missing in Action will be offered in the 20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on June 8, 6pm at the JW Marriott, 88 Queensway, Admiralty, Hong Kong. The live auction will be streamed to audiences worldwide on Phillips.com and the Phillips app, as well as on the Poly auction app and WeChat Mini Program.