Friday February 23, 2024 | by Jahlil Rush

Yoshitomo Nara’s glass snowglobes face recall due to safety concerns

At first glance, Japanese Neo-Pop artist Yohshitomo Nara's portraits of children seem familiar, rendered in the iconic anime style of soft hues, pastel colors, with thick outlines. But look closer and you might notice the facial expressions are not the usual generic friendliness. Instead there are shades of something malevolent -- an adult-like scowl of discontent, a downcast gaze, or, on rare occasions, an actual weapon in hand. With an international cult following for his unique vision of dark cuteness, Nara has exhibited his canvases at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In fact, the MOMA Design Store even carries a line of objects for sale credited to the artist, but it is no longer offering the glass spheres encasing figures in Nara’s “Little Wanderer” snow globes. These have faced a recall from the United States Consumer Products Safety Commission, because, according to the CPSC, the glass globes are susceptible to fracture easily and pose a danger of injury.

“This recall involves glass snow globes, with a plastic artwork figurine 'Little Wanderer' inside the snow globe,” according to the CPSC announcement. “The snow globes measure 4.5 inches high x 3.3 inches wide with a wood base, and have a yellow, blue, or red figurine inside."

In a prepared statement, a spokesperson for MOMA assured the Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet that there have been no reported injuries.

“We received reports of the snow globe cracking or fracturing, and no injuries have been reported," wrote MOMA spokesperson Emily Hernandez in an email correspondence with the Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet. "We voluntarily initiated a recall of the product and have contacted all known customers to share the recall instructions and offer full refunds.”

The CPSC is recommending any consumer who purchased the snow globes at the Museum of Modern Art to return them: “Consumers should immediately stop using and discard the recalled snow globes. Contact the Museum of Modern Art for a full refund. The museum is contacting all known purchasers,” reads their recall bulletin.

While no injuries have been reported, the CPSC has received 39 reports of the snow globes cracking or fracturing. Other of Nara’s designs can be found still for sale at the Museum of Modern Art's store. However, the snow globes have been taken down from the website.

Other designs with images of Nara’s work remain accessible for purchase through the online MOMA store including a set offour of his iconic canvases in the form of coasters, some featuring the artist's signature style of colorful animated characters with eyes that “gaze back” at viewers.

Nara’s paintings have been exhibited in museums across the world since the 1990s. According to his biography, Nara is known for displaying powerful portraits with eyes that “gaze back” at the viewers. Nara has also worked on three-dimensional works using materials such as wood. His solo museum exhibitions include 2023’s “All My Little Words” at the Albertina Modern in Vienna, Austria.

For an artist who always finds ways to inject a note of dark subversion into the cuteness that defines much anime, the recall seems somehow appropriate. You could even argue that the potential danger in Nara's seemingly innocuous snow globes is not out of line with his artwork. The defect was clearly not intentional on the part of the artist, but given the nature of the work, it is not totally surprising that something sinister, the susceptibility to breakage, might lurk within. After all, in Nara's work, there's always more to it than what initially meets the eye.

Glass: The UrbanGlass Quarterly, a glossy art magazine published four times a year by UrbanGlass has provided a critical context to the most important artwork being done in the medium of glass for more than 40 years.