This fall, Park Avenue museum the Asia Society is opening an unlikely blockbuster. For the first time, the institution, founded by John D. Rockefeller in 1956, is saluting a single artist, who is far from a household name yet something of a cult: Yoshitomo Nara. With his intriguing cartoonlike children and animals, often shown furious or contorted, Mr. Nara was the Roy Lichtenstein to Takashi Murkamai’s Andy Warhol in the powerhouse Japanese pop movement.
Starting Monday, Aug. 23, Mr. Nara and his team will begin making one of the major pieces for the show in a studio and tent set up at the nearby Park Avenue Armory. The studio will be open to the public. A documentary, giant outdoor sculptures on the avenue and artist talks round out the Nara-blitz.
Overseeing it all is Asia Society Museum director Melissa Chiu, an expert in contemporary Chinese art (and, as of a few weeks ago, a new mother, to a baby girl, with her husband, noted art critic and art magazine editor Benjamin Genocchio). She promises “a new perspective” on the artist.
The Observer talked to Ms. Chiu about the Nara exhibition, what she’s looking forward to this fall in New York, the Asian art markets and her unusual institution.
The Observer: Why Nara?
Melissa Chiu: He’s one of the foremost artists of his generation. The Nara exhibition [opening Sept. 9], a solo exhibition of Japanese pop art, is the first major museum exhibition of his work here in New York.
You said the society is offering a ‘new perspective’ on him?
Few people familiar with his work would really know about his long-standing interest in and influence of music on [his art.] That’s a new dimension that we wanted to really show with the exhibition-it’s really an appraisal of the past 20 years in relation to his interest in music. … [That's] something of a new interpretation and approach to looking at his work.
Do you expect it to be a draw?
Yes, I think the interesting thing about Nara is that his fan base is truly international-in fact, he had a number of fan Web sites that simply evolved without his consent or knowledge. So we are aware that there’s some sort of substantial community that has an interest in his work. … He has a degree of fans, a number of fans, here in New York City as well. [The show, targeted to a young museumgoer, will have an iPhone app and blogging partnerships, and the artist's tweets from narabot, his Twitter name, will be translated into English.]
Your favorite piece?
I’m actually really looking forward to seeing his new installations. We commissioned a large-scale installation for one of our bigger galleries on the second floor. And so [Nara] and his team will come and basically build it at the Park Avenue Armory, and I’m looking forward to seeing that take shape over the course of the week that he’s at the armory. Then it will be transported to the Asia Society Museum after that.
That’s something different-the insight into the artistic process.
Yes, it’s a rare opportunity to see this kind of installation being made. Hopefully, people will be interested enough to visit the armory on more than one occasion to see how the home and the object has actually evolved.