Takashi Murakami, Signboard TAKASHI, 1992/2007, Plywood and sticker with brand, 27-9/16 x 18-7/8 x 9/16", courtesy of the artist, ©1992-2007 Takashi, Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Takashi Murakami, The World of Sphere, 2003, Acrylic on canvas. 137-13/16 x 137-13/16", Private collection, New York, Courtesy of Marianne BoeskyGallery, New York, © 2003 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Takashi Murakami, Inochi, 2004, FRP, steel, enamel, 55-1/8 x 24-5/8 x 14-3/8", François Pinault Collection, courtesy of Blum & Poe, Los Angeles, ©2004 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Takashi Murakami, Chaos, 1996, Installation at Canal City Hakata, Fukuoka, Japan, Vinyl Chloride and helium. 196 7/8 inches in diameter, Collection of Fukuoka Jisho Co., Ltd., courtesy of Shiraishi Contemporary Art Inc., Tokyo, © 1996 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Takashi Murakami, Flower Matango (b), 2001-2006, Oil paint, fiberglass, synthetic resin, acrylic boards, enamel, iron, 157-1/2 x 118-1/8 x 98-7/16", Private Collection, courtesy of Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris and Miami, ©2001-2006 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Takashi Murakami, Oval Buddha, 2007, Installation, 590 Sculpture Garden, Manhattan in conjunction with © MURAKAMI exhibition at Brooklyn Museum of Art.
152 North Central Ave.
October 29, 2007-February 11, 2008
By MIKA YOSHITAKE
"Business art is the step that comes after Art. I started as a commercial artist, and I want to finish as a business artist."
— Andy Warhol
In May 2008, Time Magazine cited Murakami as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Born in Tokyo in 1962, Takashi Murakami belongs to the generation of neo-pop artists that emerged after the collapse of Japan’s bubble economy and the death of Emperor Hirohito in 1989.
Murakami’s formal art training was in Nihonga (a painting style focused on traditional Japanese techniques and subject matter), and he earned a PhD from Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music in 1993. Although the artist has consistently incorporated contemporary Japanese popular culture in the forms of anime (animation) and manga (comic books) into his work, he has also continued to draw on traditional sources ranging from Buddhist imagery, 12th-century picture scrolls and Zen painting, and 18th-century Edo-period compositional techniques.
Takashi Murakami’s artistic practice is predicated on seeing art as a part of the economy and the artist is significant for carving out a new entrepreneurial model that is based on a thoughtful transformation of applied market strategies. This model can be attributed to the global shift from a consumer-based society to a service-oriented economy, which differentiates Murakami from Andy Warhol as well contemporaries Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst. His company, Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. with its multi-faceted operations in mass-produced merchandising, animated film production, and collaborative corporate design commissions, not to mention his extremely successful collaboration with Louis Vuitton, make it clear just how art can develop under changing market conditions and creatively widen its distributive capacities.
In addition to creating artworks, Murakami has made a constellation of ancillary activities integral to his practice, taking on the roles of curator, lecturer, event coordinator, radio host, newspaper columnist, and manager of emerging artists. He runs his studio, the international corporation Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd., in the tradition of Japanese art guilds and animation companies, organizing his staff according to highly specialized areas of skill and craftsmanship. Inextricably involved at every level of production, Murakami personally evaluates the quality of each work his studio generates, whether a painting or a plastic figure.
© MURAKAMI was organized by The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA), whose chief curator Paul Schimmel curated and supervised the exhibition. After Los Angeles, the exhibition traveled to the Brooklyn Museum, New York and MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt/Main.
© MURAKAMI features more than 90 artworks in various media, including painting, sculpture, installation, and film, as well as an archive of licensed Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd., merchandise and a fully operational Louis Vuitton boutique. Positioned at the beginning of the exhibition is Miss ko2 (1997), a cyborg waitress turned aspiring pop star. Behind her, in a restaging of their 1998 debut at the Los Angeles Blum & Poe Gallery, stand Hiropon (1997) and My Lonesome Cowboy (1998) flanked by their abstract splash-painting counterparts Milk and Cream (both 1998). Also on display is Murakami’s three-part sculpture Second Mission Project ko2 Advanced (2000–07), which depicts Miss ko2 as she transforms from a cyborg into a jet airplane. The earliest edition of Second Mission Project was first presented at the Wonder Festival, an annual “figure” (plastic representations of popular characters) convention focusing on science fiction, military, and fantasy themes that attracts close to 40,000 figure-obsessed fans (otaku). These sculptural figures evince Murakami’s interest in the highly specialized world of fantasy that is sustained by otaku, as well as his own long-standing inquiry into the overlapping values of art and commercial contexts of presentation.
Takashi Murakami is one of the most influential artists to come out of Japan in recent decades. He has produced an extensive and highly varied oeuvre that appeals to a wide audience — from art collectors to video game-obsessed youths. In a manner reminiscent of Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, and Jeff Koons, his works not only reference pop culture, but go one step further: they merge with his life as a whole to forge a new reciprocal link between high and mass culture. Because he includes pictorial imagery from the worlds of media and consumerism — imagery taken from his everyday life (both in the United States and in Japan) — Murakami’s characters evolve an iconography that is both fantastic and spiritual in equal measure, an iconography that he brings to life in paintings, films, installations, and sculpture. As a next step, he feeds the figures he has created back into the product cycle by bringing them to market in extremely high quantities as merchandising products — for example, as prints, but also as key rings, badges, and T-shirts.
Murakami’s paintings and sculptures, installed in the exhibition chronologically to trace his artistic development, comprise the core of this exhibition. His early interest in branding and identity can be seen in Signboard TAKASHI (1991), for which he appropriated the Tamiya (Japan’s leading producer of plastic model kits) company logo to create a signboard with his name above the company’s slogan “First in quality around the world.” In 1993, in an effort to brand his own identity, Murakami created the alter ego DOB, whose name derives from the famous Japanese gag Dobojite dobojite (Why? Why?) from the comic book Inakappe Taisho and “oshamanbe” by the comedian Toru Yuri. First conceived as a small character on a monochromatic blue field (DOB — Genesis, 1993) and a semi-amorphous form (Stew series, 1995), the character has evolved from a balloon with large eyes and a jovial smile (Mr. DOB, 1995) into a monstrous creature with ferocious jagged teeth (The Castle of Tin Tin, 1998). Murakami has referred to DOB as an erratic manifestation of the desire to consume and the ceaseless regeneration of that impulse, and these works evince his ongoing engagement with the distinct narrative development of his own fantastic universe.
Murakami blended the bright palette of pop, the flatness of anime, and the ominous forms of surrealism to create the PO + KU Surrealism series (1998; “PO + KU” is an amalgamation of the terms pop and otaku). These paintings are quintessentially “superflat,” which is Murakami’s term for the tendency throughout the history of Japanese art to construct two-dimensional compositions depicting subjects arranged nonhierarchically on solid backgrounds. The artist has observed that contemporary manga and anime also incorporate this sensibility, and he uses “superflat” to locate a particular lineage of Japanese aesthetics in a single work.
Murakami’s psychological self-portraiture inspires his ever-evolving characters, which include DOB, the smiling cosmos flower, Kaikai, Kiki, Inochi, and Mr. Pointy. Reverse Double Helix (2003–05), an installation based on a Buddhist sculptural composition, comprises Tongari-kun (Mr. Pointy) and his four protective deities, Tamon-kun, Jikkokkun, Zoucho-kun, and Koumokkun. The platinum-leaf sculpture Oval Buddha (2007) has a form that resonates with those in the army of colorful mushrooms that make up Supernova (1999) and the clouds of Time Bokan (1993/2007). Murakami’s most recent series of paintings focus on the Indian monk Daruma, who introduced Zen Buddhism to Japan, conveying his pacifist convictions to underscore Japan’s post-atomic present. The animated film kaikai & kiki depicts a story about two adorable characters who go on a journey to numerous places, come across strange events, and are eventually awakened to their own identities. Characterized by a density of iconography, this film promises to be the wellspring from which Murakami will draw inspiration for his oeuvre for years to come. kaikai & kiki premieres together with Murakami’s recent music video for Kanye West. Part two of kaikai & kiki will open in mid-December and part three in January.
Murakami’s early interest in the question of brand names and identity becomes clear in the so-called Signboards (1991), in which he uses the logo of the leading Japanese model-making manufacturer TAMIYA, replacing the company’s logotype with his own name, directly above the slogan “First in quality around the world.” These key early works are being shown in a special cabinet. Branding, logo, and corporate identity are concepts that Murakami from the outset incorporated into his own work. The exhibition title © MURAKAMI makes this crystal clear.
As of 1993, Murakami started to market his own persona, and identity as if they themselves formed a logo, creating an alter ego for himself, which he called DOB, after the famous Japanese gag “Dobojite dobojite oshamanbe?” (Why? Why?) made by comedian Yuri Toru (1921-99). Just as Murakami’s understanding of reality and identity developed and changed, his figure DOB changed, too. Starting out as an organic shape similar to a strand of DNA, DOB gradually transformed itself, first into a balloon-shaped figure with round, innocent eyes and a friendly smile and then into a monstrous creature, baring its dangerous teeth and with terrifying large eyes.
Murakami’s commercial projects are represented in the Kaikai Kiki Merchandise Display Room, an archive of 500 mass-produced goods including T-shirts, pins, stuffed animals, stationery, mugs, towels, key chains, and model kits. Also on view is Superflat Museum, a miniature display of Murakami’s characters originally packaged and sold at convenience stores as shokugan (toys inside boxed candy). The Louis Vuitton boutique displays a range of handbags and accessories featuring Murakami’s brightly hued logo designs. The store’s presence in the museum makes literal the artist’s career-long interweaving of high art, mass culture, and commerce — a gesture that has become essential to his artistic philosophy and practice.
Takashi Murakami lives and works in Tokyo and Long Island City, New York and Los Angeles. He studied Art at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts & Music, obtaining both a bachelor’s and master’s degree and then a doctorate. At The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles he curated the exhibition Superflat (2001). His works have already been shown in numerous solo exhibitions at the Fondation Cartier pour l‘art contemporain, Paris, the Serpentine Gallery, London (2002), the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (2001) and the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College (1999). Further solo exhibitions: Blum & Poe, Los Angeles (2008, 2004, 2000, 1998, and 1997); Gagosian Gallery, New York (May 1-June 9, 2007); Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris (2006, 2003, 2001, 1997 and 1995); Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin (2005); Tomio Koyama Gallery, Tokyo (2004, 1998, and 1996); Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York (2003, 2001, and 1999); Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2001); P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, New York (2000); Feature Inc., New York (1998 and 1996); SCAI the Bathhouse, Tokyo (1995 and 1994); Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art (1993), and Roentgen Kunst Institut, Tokyo (1992 and 1991). Works by Murakami are included in the following museum collections: 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum of Modern Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Queensland Art Gallery, and Walker Art Center.
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue with illustrations of all the works (328 pages, hard-cover) compiled by award-winning designer Lorraine Wild of the Green Dragon Office. Alongside its comprehensive illustration section, the catalogue contains essays by renowned academics and experts, specially commissioned for this publication, including Dick Hebdige, Midori Matsui, Scott Rothkopf, Paul Schimmel, and Mika Yoshitake
Mika Yoshitake is a MOCA project coordinator.