I know it seems like a new low in the annals of book reviewing to review a book of postcards. I can hear it now: "What's next, Inlander? Wanna review the phone book? How about a book of stamps?"
OK, you've had your fun. Now quit snickering and allow me to explain that Oh! My God! I Miss You! is no ordinary book of postcards. Tokyo-born contemporary artist Yoshitomo Nara is internationally renowned for his pop-art images of friendly white dogs and children with jelly bean-shaped heads and strangely menacing eyes. Having exhibited at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, the Yokohama Museum of Art and the PS1 Contemporary Art Center in New York (among others), Nara's work is as informed by manga (Japanese comic books), street graffiti and Japanese pop culture as it is inspired by the dualities of vulnerability and menace.
Take, for example, the numerous smoking children found in his work. (There are at least two in the postcard book alone.) Scowling like teenagers, cancer sticks dangling from their thin red lips, it's no wonder that one of the hottest ashtrays for sale on the Web right now is a bitter Nara tot with the slogan "too young to die." It's unclear whether Nara is celebrating the sulky misbehavior of rebellious youth or indicting the cigarette industry for targeting kids with images of "cool." Either way, it's hard to forget the flinty stare down coming from those two-dimensional eyes.
Some pieces, for instance "Your Dog" and "Cup Kids," show Nara's ebullient sculptural work. All gleaming Fiberglas curves and oversized whimsy, there's something magic and delightful about a big white dog in the middle of a city park, his long white legs braced for balance on a pool of blue "water." Other postcards are taken from Nara's paintings, many aping the rough textures of graffiti, with paint on strips of cotton glued to a Fiberglas frame. "My 13th Sad Day" and "Oh! My God! I Miss You!" are rendered even more forlorn by the suggestion of different sizes and shapes of bandages underneath the images.
Many of Nara's paintings are too compelling to part with; you'll find yourself saving a few for your bulletin board or maybe even to frame. Others are perfectly suited for showing up in mailboxes -- bestowing upon the recipient feelings of being hip, Japanese and worthy of their very own Yoshitomo Nara.
Publication date: 05/27/04