Until November 3, the pop world inspired by Yoshitomo Nara's manga will occupy the spaces of the Guggenheim in Bilbao: an unmissable exhibition that seems like a stream of consciousness

For four months the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the the most contemporary temple of the Basque Country, it transforms into the heart of Ginza, the most refined district of Tokyo, where the windows of elegant boutiques, art galleries and creative spaces sparkle . All thanks to Yoshitomo Nara, one of the most famous Jap artists on the planet.

This splendid sixty-five year old, who wears hooded sweatshirts and peaked caps, will dominate the spaces designed by Frank O. Gewhry with his pouting little girls, his unmistakable trademark, until November 3rd inspired by manga where nothing is as it seems.

This is the most important retrospective ever dedicated to him in Europe. A sort of omnia that retraces four decades of his career through a large selection of works, including paintings, drawings, sculptures and installations.

They all reflect like dielectric mirrors the emotions felt by the artist during his wanderings from Japan to Germany, passing through America.

Nara's characters, his figures and animals, are in fact a visual representation of his thoughts. Childhood memories, life experiences, love and knowledge of music, art and society are the primary sources of his exuberant creativity guided by the concepts of home, community, nature and their combination .

The anthology sponsored by the BBVA Foundation, which after Bilbao will fly first to Baden-Baden and then to London, does not follow a chronological order but an emotional one, like a stream of consciousness.

This can be perceived right from the first large room, inaugurated by the Pray sculpture from 1991, almost a sort of blessing for everything that will be seen from here on out. Then it is a succession of small drawings populated by animes. These are youthful works, from when the artist lived in a house on a hill in the semi-rural area of ​​Hirosaki.

Often alone, he created imaginary worlds next to his cat while listening to American folk broadcast on the Far East Network radio station. Above all, he listened to Bob Dylan, whose dissident and pacifist message would influence him forever.

Further on, there is the canvasIn the Deepest Puddle II, from 1994, chosen as the guiding manifesto of the project. It depicts a little girl with big eyes with her head wrapped in bandages and her legs in the water. The painting was exhibited for the first time in Tokyo in '95, while two years later it appeared on the cover of the artist's first catalogue.

It is inspired by the cover of folk singer John Hiatt's album Overcoats (1975), which shows the American singer immersed in water while wearing his overcoat as if it were nothing.

A few steps further, there is theDead Flowerof 2020, almost a summa of Yoshitomo Nara-thought: another of his angry little girls smiles at the viewer while she wields a saw and is surrounded by drops of (presumed) blood.

At the center of the room, the My Drawing Room installation from 2008, an architectural wooden structure that recreates the space of the artist's studio.

A hand-painted poster with the words "Place Like Home" hangs outside, while the interior features stacks of drawings on the floor and a desk with trading cards, mixed CDs, vernacular paintings, drawings, and collectibles recovered from American vintage shops accumulated over time.

The second room is more intimate, and tells both of the phase in which our hero lives in Cologne, where he lived from 1994 to 2000, and that relating to his return to Japan.

In Germany Nara holds several solo exhibitions and creates new characters, such as Mumps, which shows a child with a bandage wrapped under his chin and tied with a bow on his head and Abandoned Poppy, another child wearing a puppy costume. He depicts both of them inside a black box that he associates with refuge and protection.

Protection also from natural disasters, such as the 2011 earthquake and the Fukushima nuclear accident, which the artist chose to address by organizing workshops dedicated to the theme of memory within the evacuation centers located in the region. In the painting Emergency from 2013, one of her brats is seen lying on a stretcher while she stares at the observer. While in front of her stands the golden sculpture of Miss Forest, from 2012.

"In Japanese, it is called 'Moriko' or the child of the forest,” explained the artist himself. “I wanted to give life to something that was born from the soil that grew towards the sky, thus communicating with the "the universe is like an antenna. Miss Forest is a catalyst between the great earth on which we place our feet and the sky that our hands cannot reach."

Next to Miss Forest is one of the most emotional paintings in the exhibition. It is Miss Margaret, 2016, a little girl on a background of iridescent colors that evoke the existential atmospheres of Mark Rothko's soft and saturated forms.

The silhouette of the little Miss seems to be inspired by the portraits of European artists such as Modigliani and Foujita, and arouses contrasting sensations where sadness, anger and serenity coexist. A surprising mix that Nara achieves by reworking and repainting the faces several times.

The next room is therefore dominated by the works on paper and the pacifist demands that the artist has been pursuing for almost half a century. A social conscience that led him to Afghanistan in 2002 where through a series of drawings he documented war and pain.

In this space there are mini characters wearing t-shirts with the words "No War" or shouting the words "Stop the Bombs" in a large white speech bubble. A disgust towards every conflict that makes this part of the exhibition one of the most current ever.

The last act of the journey is surrounded by shades of green water. The room is in fact dominated by the moving Fountain of Life, created in 2001, 2014 and 2022. A fountain inspired by traditional Japanese teacups, which in this case hold some children with their eyes closed. From afar they seem serene, but up close you discover that the water from the spring is flowing right from their eyes, like tears. More than a strong message of eternal youth, it seems like a melancholic and disturbing warning.

Be careful though, beware of identifying Yoshitomo Nara as an incurable pessimist. It's anything but. And the latest work exhibited in Bilbao demonstrates this perfectly. This is In The Pink Water, from 2020.

The artist created it during the pandemic for the album cover of Survive by G. Yoko, a singer-songwriter from the island of Ishigaki in Okinawa. Nara captures the essence of the island melodies, while the girl stands with her eyes closed holding a daisy in her hands immersed up to her lap in pink water.

A sort of ecstasy that immediately leads back to peace and serenity. Despite the forced isolation, the little girl seems happy with her condition, while the colored liquid does nothing but instill feelings of purification and rebirth. The right catharsis, after the gymkhana of emotions.