Photo/IllutrationVisitors view “Kaishu” (Recalled, 1998) by Tetsuya Ishida at the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, which has organized the retrospective “Tetsuya Ishida: Self-Portrait of Other.” (Wakato Onishi)

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MADRID--Fairly obscure when he was alive, Tetsuya Ishida, an artist who satirized isolation and alienation in contemporary Japanese society, has drawn hundreds of thousands of viewers to a retrospective exhibition in the Spanish capital.

The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (Museo Reina Sofia) has brought together a selection of 70 paintings and drawings of Ishida, who died at the age of 31 in 2005.

Ishida’s idiosyncratic world has been recreated inside of the museum’s 19th century building, which used to be the Velazquez Palace, in Buen Retiro Park at the center of Madrid.

The paintings, many of which depict a young man with a hollow facial expression and integrated with an object, grace the walls of spacious exhibition rooms with high ceilings.

One such work is “Kaishu” (Recalled, 1998), a portrayal of a funeral scene in which a man’s body is dismembered and the parts are neatly placed into a coffin-like cardboard box. The painting suggests the man’s life is no different from a home appliance.

“It’s his funeral, but the man’s body is getting disassembled. I felt pain from this work,” said a 46-year-old man who teaches art at a high school in southern Spain.

He said he came to the exhibition after reading a newspaper article about it. “I think (Ishida) is a great artist,” he said.

A 17-year-old high student who accompanied the teacher said she was particularly impressed with the work titled “Shujin” (Prisoner, ca 1999), which depicts a young man whose body is encapsulated in a school building.

“I feel the same way,” the student said.

The exhibition opened on April 12 and had welcomed about 313,000 visitors by the end of July, exceeding the museum’s expectations.

Visitors spend a great deal of time admiring and trying to understand Ishida’s works.

Ishida was born in Yaizu, Shizuoka Prefecture, in 1973. He developed a love of painting at an early age and graduated from Musashino Art University.

He won the prestigious VOCA (Vision of Contemporary Art) Exhibition award in 2001. But he died at a train crossing in Tokyo in 2005.

An art collection book published posthumously the following year pulled Ishida from near obscurity.

In the famous painting used for the front cover of the book, Ishida depicts a salaryman whose body is merged into playground equipment shaped in the form of an airplane that never takes off.

In another well-known painting, titled “Mensetsu” (Interview), a young job-seeker is interviewed by three human-microscope things.

Critics have said that the male subject in Ishida’s paintings is the artist himself. They have also said his work embodies “feelings of entrapment of Japanese society” and “a sense of incongruity or feeling of being incapacitated that one experiences in society.”

Since his death, Ishida’s retrospective exhibition has been held at the Nerima Art Museum in Tokyo and elsewhere.

Teresa Velazquez, a curator of the Museo Reina Sofia, said she first saw Ishida’s work at the 2015 Venice Biennale held in Italy.

“Ishida’s work left the biggest impression on me among the enormous volume of works displayed at the Biennale,” Velazquez said.

The Museo Reina Sofia, which houses Pablo Picasso’s masterpiece “Guernica,” put on a large-scale solo exhibition of avant-garde Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama in 2011.

Ishida, whose subjects are Japanese people and society, was not internationally recognized like Kusama at the time.

But for Velazquez, that was never an issue in her plan to organize the retrospective at one of the most prestigious museums in Europe.

“Ishida’s expression is realism, which directly appeals to an audience,” Velazquez said. “The ambience of his work reflects a sense of stagnation and hopelessness of those who feel like outcasts and give up the pursuit of happiness. Such feeling has no borders.”

Velazquez attributes the exhibit’s success partly to the current economic conditions in Spain.

“Unemployment is high in Spain, and many people can’t find a job they want after graduating from university,” she said. “Some end up living with their parents even after they are in their 40s.”

Velazquez also said many young people who are alienated by the media feel powerless and have lost all hope.

“I think Ishida’s work has touched these people and gotten a lot of sympathy,” she said.

She chose “Kiro” (Return Journey, ca 2003) for the exhibition’s poster. The painting depicts a young boy’s head that is hollow inside.

For Velazquez, “Kiro” signifies a man’s continuous attempt to discover himself in an empty space, a perfect symbol of Ishida’s body of work.

Velazquez then came up with the title of the retrospective, “Autorretrato de Otro” (Self-Portrait of Other).

The man featured in the poster “could be any one of us,” Velazquez said, explaining the meaning behind the title that illustrates the universality of Ishida’s works.

The retrospective at the Museo Reina Sofia will conclude on Sept. 8.

It will then travel to Chicago for a display from Oct. 3 to Dec. 14 at Wrightwood 659, an art gallery designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando.