Installation view of Yoshitomo Nara: Pinacoteca, 2021 © Yoshitomo Nara


Nara: A Timeline 1988 – 2023

On the occasion of Yoshitomo Nara: The Bootleg Drawings 1988 - 2023, on view at our Geneva gallery through February 29, 2024, we present a timeline of the artist.

Yoshitomo Nara, Untitled, 1988 © Yoshitomo Nara


In 1988, Yoshitomo Nara moves to Germany to undertake further studies at the Kunstacademie Düsseldorf, where, from 1991, he studies under the painter A. R. Penck (1939 – 2017). Penck encourages Nara to “paint on the canvas as if he is drawing”, resulting in an unusual set of drawings in acrylic paint. These bold, singular figures featuring streaks of red and yellow that saturate their blurred or exaggerated features represent a compositional paring down of Nara’s previous gridded works.

Adapted from one of these acrylic drawings, the walking figure in Irrlichter (1989) occupies the length of the picture plane, foregrounded against a wash of broad streaks of layered yellows. This painting marks the beginning of a significant shift in the development of Nara’s signature style—large, rounded heads against plain backgrounds.

Yoshitomo Nara, Submarines in Girl, 1992 © Yoshitomo Nara


At the Kunstacademie Düsseldorf’s annual student show, Nara shows his seminal work, The Girl with the Knife in Her Hand (1991), a painting that will determine his style moving forward. The following year, the painting is selected for a show at the gallery Johnen + Schöttle in Cologne.

Yoshitomo Nara, JAILHOUSE KAMIKAZE, 1994 © Yoshitomo Nara


Moves to Cologne and sets up a studio and living space in a former cotton mill. Nara’s exhibitions in Europe and Japan continue to increase. Reminiscing on this time: ‘I would ride my bike around Cologne, checking out the gallery district, enjoying a cup of coffee in a café, and then start painting in the evening. I spent every day like this, and I wanted for nothing in my life in Germany’[i].

Yoshitomo Nara, Where is my Cat?, 1995 © Yoshitomo Nara


Nara’s solo exhibition, In the Deepest Puddle at SCAI THE BATHHOUSE, Tokyo, marks a turning point in the artist’s career. Through the works shown—many of which are now considered touchstones in his oeuvre—Nara successfully transports viewers into the complex inner worlds of his subjects, creating uneasy dichotomies between cuteness, vulnerability, and anger, anxiety, and pain.

Following the exhibition’s success, Nara shows in the United States for the first time at the Santa Monica gallery Blum & Poe. Receives the Nagoya City Art Award, Encouragement Prize.

Yoshitomo Nara, Untitled, 1996 © Yoshitomo Nara


Takes part in group exhibitions Tokyo Pop at the Hiratsuka Museum of Art, and Ironic Fantasy: Another World by Five Contemporary Artists at Miyagi Museum of Art, Sendai. Gains attention as part of “Japan’s New Pop” along with Takashi Murakami, Makoto Aida, Tarō Chiezō, and Mariko Mori.

Yoshitomo Nara, Untitled (My Fighter is dead), 1997 © Yoshitomo Nara


First collection of works, In the Deepest Puddle (Kadokawa Shoten), is published. Banana Yoshimoto writes endorsement for the obi (paper strap on book cover). This book leads to Nara’s works reaching a wider audience outside of art lovers.

Yoshitomo Nara, Untitled, 1998 © Yoshitomo Nara


At the recommendation of Paul McCarthy, Nara is invited to be a visiting professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. During this time, he lives with Takashi Murakami, who had also been invited. Commissioned by Naoko Yamano of the Japanese female trio band, Shōnen Knife, Nara creates drawings for their album Happy Hour.

Holds first solo museum exhibition in the United States at the Institute of Visual Arts, the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

The preparatory committee for the Aomori Museum of Art (which opens in 2006), located in Nara’s birthplace of Aomori prefecture, begins collecting his work. 124 works created from 1984 to 1997, including representative paintings of the 90s such as Mumps and The Last Match (both 1996), are archived.

Yoshitomo Nara, Untitled, 1999 © Yoshitomo Nara


First solo exhibition in a full-scale art space in Japan, Walking Alone (Shiseido Ginza Art Space, Tokyo), and first solo exhibition in New York, Pave Your Dreams (Marianne Boesky Gallery). Listening to a demo tape for Pyromaniac, the new album from The Star Club, a punk band he has adored since his youth, Nara paints Pyromaniac Day and Pyromaniac Dead of Night, which become cover art for the CD.

The Nara fan site HAPPY HOUR is launched by a fan named naoko. A picture book, The Lonesome Puppy, is published by Magazine House.

Yoshitomo Nara, Itchy & Scratchy, 2000 © Yoshitomo Nara


Opens two solo exhibitions in the United States: Walk On at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and Lullaby Supermarket at the Santa Monica Museum of Art.

The Museum of Modern Art, New York, add 130 drawings by Nara to their collection.

After twelve years in Germany, Nara moves back to Japan, partly due to the planned demolition of his studio in Cologne, and partly in anticipation of his major upcoming show at the Yokohama Museum of Art, I DON’T MIND, IF YOU FORGET ME.

In this exhibition, Nara experiments with ways for audiences to experience his works: freestanding display walls penetrated by kennels house his now-iconic white dogs; a smaller interior room built using wood panels is dedicated to his drawings; and dolls—handmade and sent to the museum from fans of the artist—are squished into clear acrylic letters spelling the title of the exhibition.

From this period onward, Nara is constantly experimenting with the formal techniques of various media and the excessive capacity of colour on canvas and line on paper. Compositionally, he begins to pose his figures almost exclusively in frontal bust mode, facing the viewer directly. Longer hair and older faces suggest that they, as well as Nara’s artistic practice, are maturing.

Yoshitomo Nara, Khyber Pass, 2002 © Yoshitomo Nara


For the first edition of visual magazine FOIL—under the theme of ‘No War’—Nara travels to Afghanistan and submits photographs from his time there. These images focus on the daily lives of the local community, the physical and emotional connection between the people and the land, and how a sense of home is maintained in this war-torn region. Nara is selected by the publication for the slogans of peace and messages of hope interlaced throughout his work.

Takes part in group exhibition, Drawing Now: Eight Propositions at MoMA QNS, New York.

Yoshitomo Nara, The Night, 2003 © Yoshitomo Nara


Having previously collaborated with other contemporary artists, including British artist David Shrigley, Nara embarks on a new project with fellow Aichi Prefectural University of Fine Arts and Music alum, Hiroshi Sugito.

Solo exhibition, Nothing Ever Happens, travels to five venues in the United States, starting with the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, Ohio.

Working with Osaka-based design firm, graf, Nara presents S.M.L (2003), a set of three container style rooms, leading onto further joint projects including London Mayfair House (2006) and Voyage of the Moon (Resting Moon) / Voyage of the Moon (2006).

Yoshiomo Nara, Untitled, 2005 © Yoshitomo Nara


Provides artwork for the album Banging the Drum by bloodthirsty butchers, a Japanese alternative rock band who are also close friends of Nara. On commission from the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, creates a work with the image of the atomic bomb dropping in mind: Missing in Action -Girl meets Boy-. At the end of the year, moves to Nasushiobara in Tochigi prefecture, and sets up a studio.

Yoshitomo Nara, Sleepless Night (Sitting), 2007 © Yoshitomo Nara


Nara begins an artist residency in the town of Shigaraki in the mountains outside Kyoto, home to one of six ancient kilns in Japan—each major sites of ceramic making since the twelfth century. His clay works from this period, unlike the smooth, highly polished finishes of his fibreglass sculptures, are tactile and lightly textured, revealing the materiality of the medium.

Yoshitomo Nara, Untitled, 2008 © Yoshitomo Nara


Yoshitomo Nara + graf: A-Z Project at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Newcastle, UK.

Yoshitomo Nara, Real One., 2010 © Yoshitomo Nara


First solo ceramic exhibition, Ceramic Works, at Tomio Koyama Gallery, Tokyo. Solo exhibition Nobody’s Fool, at the Asia Society Museum, New York. Receives award from the International Centre in New York, given to cultural figures for contributions to American society.

Yoshitomo Nara, patch over eye, 2011 © Yoshitomo Nara


In the wake of the March 11 Tōhoku earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent Fukushima nuclear accident, Nara returns to his hometown of Hirosaki. There, he and his mother collect items from their house and distribute them amongst those affected by the disaster in the surrounding areas.

Nara completes two small paintings, M.I.A (2011) and Atomkraft Baby (2011), for a silent auction to raise money for victims of the disasters and organises informal talks and workshops in the Fukushima area for those affected.

In the summer, Nara returns to his alma mater, Aichi University of the Arts, as a visiting artist and works alongside students in a communal studio

Yoshitomo Nara, Study for Miss Spring, 2012 © Yoshitomo Nara


Nara stages a major exhibition, Yoshitomo Nara: A Bit Like You and Me…, at the Yokohama Museum of Art. It travels to the Aomori Museum of Art and the Contemporary Art Museum, Kumamoto.

The painting Miss Spring (2012), created using a range of layered painterly textures, jewelled colours, and speckles of fleshy pinks and whites, expresses an accumulation of the techniques Nara began experimenting with in the mid-2000s. Part of a now distinctive genre of bust portraits, the motionless posture and ambiguous expression of the figure contrasts with a lively treatment of texture and colour.

Installation Views, Yoshitomo Nara, Pace Gallery, New York, May 10 – Jun 29, 2013 © Yoshitomo Nara


Nara receives the Art Encouragement Prize of Fine Arts from the Agency for Cultural Affairs, Japan. At Pace in New York, stages his first solo exhibition with the gallery.

Yoshitomo Nara, days, 2014-2018 © Yoshitomo Nara


Together with Naoki Ishikawa, Nara begins a photographic project exploring the areas around Hokkaido for the Watari Museum of Contemporary Art, one of several projects he took on after the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster that related to his northern roots, culminating in the duo exhibition, to the north, from here, at the museum in 2015.

Publication of NO WAR! (Bijutsu Shuppan-sha), a book collecting Nara’s works carrying a message against war, a recurring theme since his earliest pieces in the late 1980s.

Yoshitomo Nara, Tobiu 2017, 2017 © Yoshitomo Nara


Collecting his representative works from around the world, Nara opens solo exhibition for better or worse at the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, located near his alma mater, the Aichi Prefectural University of the Arts.

August, spends one month at Tobiu Art Community (Shiraoi, Hokkaido) as resident artist. Participates in Tobiu Art Festival 2017, We Dream the Same Dream.

Yoshitomo Nara, 日々是好日 Everyday is a good day, 2018 © Yoshitomo Nara


Nara’s private exhibition space, N’s YARD, officially opens in Nasushiobara. Participates in the Gwangju Biennale with installation work, At Tobiu. The Gwangju Biennale is curated by art historian Yeewan Koon, who later becomes the author of Nara’s first monograph published as a specialty art book.

Yoshitomo Nara, Working Class Heroes, 2019 © Yoshitomo Nara


The Yoshitomo Nara Foundation is established to preserve, exhibit, and promote the artist’s work and materials. Production begins on an official archive of artwork information and artist biography, as well as “YOSHITOMO NARA The Works,” an online catalogue raisonné (launches in 2021).

Yoshitomo Nara, Peace Head, 2021 © Yoshitomo Nara


The first international full-scale retrospective, YOSHITOMO NARA, guest curated by Mika Yoshitake and seen through the lens of his longtime passion—music—is staged at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It travels to Yuz Museum, Shanghai, the following year.

Yoshitomo Nara, HHL's G!, 2022 © Yoshitomo Nara


Participates in the Aichi Triennale 2022. With a historic building in Ichinomiya City as the venue and Miss Moonlight (2020) and Fountain of Life (2001/2022) as the core of the exhibition, Nara creates a tranquil and solemn space evoking “prayer.”

Resides in Tōyako, Hokkaido for the month of August, for the project Furatto Nara san to (With Nara-san), a collaborative drawing project with the children of that town. Completed works are exhibited from September 4 until October 2 in Toita Ura, which had been his studio.

Yoshitomo Nara, Rock’n’ Roll for World Peace, 2023 © Yoshitomo Nara


Solo exhibition with a focus on drawings, All My Little Words, held at the Albertina Museum, Vienna. The Aomori Museum of Art, which holds the world’s largest collection of Nara artworks, stages its second solo exhibition of Nara’s work, reflecting on the artist’s activities in the past twelve years since the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami alongside notable works from his student years. Running through to February 2024, the exhibition is staged exclusively by the Aomori Museum, which holds the world’s largest collection of Nara artworks.

[i] Yoshitomo Nara, “Hansei (Half a Life)” in The World of Yoshitomo Nara, special issue, Eureka Poetry and Critique 49-13, no. 706 (2017), 245.

  • Essays — Nara: A Timeline 1988 – 2023, Jan 17, 2024