Senior Art Preparators Michael Price (left) and Daniel Wheeler (right) installing artwork in the Yoshitomo Nara retrospective, art © Yoshitomo Nara, photo by Head of Art Preparation and Installation Julia Latané

Keep Your Eye On The Man In Red—Installing Artist Yoshitomo Nara's Retrospective

August 19, 2020
Tom Duffy, Senior Art Preparator

Visitors to Yoshitomo Nara's retrospective at LACMA will find several walls hung in salon-style fashion (squeezed together, if you will, like those in 19th century academia). The exhibition displays hundreds of framed works on paper (organized, in theory, chronologically); and they occupy a number of galleries in this arguably "random" way. But there is a method to Nara's madness and juxtaposing pieces in a "crowd" of sorts is easier said than done.

We, in the Art Preparation and Installation (API) department, enjoyed participating in Nara's process, and showed up "prepared." We had our tool carts tricked-out with levels and tape measures. Pencils and Post-it Notes were at the ready. Hammers and hanging hardware awaited as did I and LACMA's six expert installers (Daniel, Giorgio, Foster, Michael, Eduardo, and Deja). This was key; for if Nara gave any one of them the elevation and location of a given artwork, they had it on the wall in minutes (if not quicker). Typically, blue tape was placed at the upper left-hand corner of the framed work and the math just happened.

These six took the time to place d-rings on the backs of all the works before arranging them on blankets before their given location (and creator, Nara). Like hammers and nails (or any of the above-mentioned tools) we were employed by the artist to realize the dream. There was a dialogue, an exchange, a rhythm. And while we listened to Queen, David Bowie, and the most eclectic of playlists, we didn't necessarily feel as if we were "Under Pressure" to get the job done. We just had fun.

Nara might ask us, "Did we like this work standing alone? Or should it be touching its neighbor? Should they be two feet north of the portrait or alongside the triptych?" There was ultimately a trust and for that we were grateful.

Yoshitomo Nara is a huge talent and is extremely prolific. The works that we were installing included fully realized narratives and signature portraits (those of "a young girl with piercing eyes"). There were sketches that might prompt a viewer to say, "Oh that took about two seconds of his time" (as they might be sketched on napkins or the backs of envelopes). But Nara's work is deceptively layered and, I would argue, the assembled drawings go a long way toward conveying his process and politics and all around good humor. Nara communicates much in a few strokes of a crayon.

In the following time-lapse video keep an eye out for the gentleman in the red shirt; you'll witness Nara in action.

As always, it takes a village and we would like to acknowledge the team—Art Preparators I Eduardo Camacho and Kadejah Spraggs; Art Preparator II David Foster; Senior Art Preparators Giorgio Carlevaro, Tom Duffy, Michael Price, and Daniel Wheeler. We couldn't do it without the leadership of Julia Latane, Head of Art Preparation and Installation; Senior Assistant Registrar, Exhibitions Elspeth Patient; and Assistant Registrar, Art Bridges + Terra Foundation Initiative Dawn Turner. Thanks too to guest curator Mika Yoshitake and Curatorial Assistant Meghan Doherty; Senior Paper Conservator Janice Schopfer; Paper Conservator Soko Furuhata; Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Paper Conservation Madison Brockman; and Nara's Studio Manager Satoko Hamada.

Of course we'd all be wanting without the artist himself. Thank you Yoshitomo Nara!

Please note: LACMA is temporarily closed to the public. We will announce any news about exhibitions by email, on our website, and through social media (@lacma).