Aawwww! Look at that cute white puppy, wobbly legs splayed, hopeful tail standing straight up, eyes half-closed as if waking from a nap. Yoshitomo Nara’s Your Dog sculpture looks like it just ran out the front doors of the museum to welcome you home.
Nara is one of Japan’s best known neo-pop artists. Influenced as much by punk rock as by Disney movies and Japanese cartoons like “Astro Boy,” Nara has developed a readily identifiable style of figurative work, both two and three dimensional. His cartoon-like images of girls and animals, simultaneously adorable and disturbing, adorn everything from cell-phone covers to ashtrays to alarm clocks. His blending of cute, creepy and vulnerable — drawn from his memories of the loneliness, pain, joy and innocence of childhood — strikes a chord and has earned him a cult following in Japan and beyond.
The surreal scale of Your Dog evokes the large guardian sculptures stationed at entrances of Shinto shrines, but it also reminds us of how big a dog can seem when you are small. By enlarging a puppy to the size of an Asian elephant, Nara complicates its inherent cuteness with a sense of menace. He adopts a seamless, glossy surface for his whimsical forms, blending high and low and grown-up and infantile in ways that remind New York Times critic Roberta Smith of Jeff Koons and Keith Haring. Nara’s outdoor sculptures — like Haring’s graffiti babies and Koons’ shiny public art — are instantly engaging.
Stop by and celebrate the Year of the Dog with Your Dog. And don’t forget to tag the inevitable selfies with #NaraDog.