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‘Yoshitomo Nara: ceramic works’

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Tomio Koyama Gallery, Tokyo

Closes June 19

Yoshitomo Nara, one of the pioneers of the Japan’s 1990s’ pop art wave, is virtually a household name in this country. His cartoon-style and cute characters have been exhibited worldwide and decorate a whole host of merchandise, such as cell-phone straps, wristwatches and T-shirts. The question now is: How much further can he take his crowd-pleasing style? The latest exhibition at the Tomio Koyama Gallery, Tokyo includes some of the paintings and sketches that have made the artist popular; but, as the title suggests, what makes this show different are his new “ceramic works.”

Since 2009, Nara has been working on ceramic sculptures at Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park in Shigaraki, an area in Shiga Prefecture famous for its ancient tradition of pottery. His sculptures retain that uncanny mix of childlike innocence and vulnerability with disturbing expressions or situations; except now they are even more perverse — because they are giant.

So far, “ceramic works” is drawing in around 90 visitors per day; quite a change for the usually hushed atmosphere of the Kiyosumi complex, which actually houses high-end dealer galleries rather than art-exhibition galleries. Tomoko Omori of Tomio Koyama Gallery, however, is not perturbed by the foot traffic: “This is a commercial gallery, but we hope younger people or people who are not necessarily able to collect art feel comfortable about visiting us. This is an opportunity for all art fans to see Nara’s work for free.”

Nara’s ceramics are fun to see, but really they are supersized versions of what has already made him popular. As the visitor numbers show, though, it doesn’t seem to matter what Nara puts out to the public, his fans will always be in awe.

Tomio Koyama Gallery, Tokyo is open Tue.-Sat. 12-7 p.m., closed Sun. For more information, call 03-3642-4090 or visit www.tomiokoyamagallery.com