Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, is one of the biggest names in the contemporary art scene. I like to call artists like him “super artists” since he can create a wide-ranging body of work that bridges fine art, painting, sculpture, design, animation, fashion, and popular culture.
During the early 90s Murakami was discontented with the contemporary art scene in Japan so most of his early works conveyed a strong social criticism message expressing his frustration with the lack of a reliable and sustainable art market in post-war Japan. He later earned a scholarship and during one year, he participated in PS1 International Studio Program in New York and forged his new strategy: he would establish himself as a contemporary artist in the Western art scene and then import himself back to Japan.
He coined the term superflat, which describes both the aesthetic characteristics of the Japanese artistic tradition and the nature of post-war Japanese culture and society. By focusing on Japan’s “low” culture of anime and manga and the subculture of otaku, he created his signature style of cute and disturbing anime characters painted in bright colours on glossy surfaces, smiling flowers, oversized blinking eyes, Technicolor mushrooms and skulls and life-size sculptures of anime figures.
“At the beginning, to be frank, I didn’t like flowers, but as I continued teaching in the school, my feelings changed: their smell, their shape–it all made me feel almost physically sick, and at the same time I found them very ‘cute.’ Each one seems to have its own feelings, its own personality.”
Around that time, one of his main characters was “Mr. DOB“. The name plays on the slang expression “dobojite,” meaning “why?. Mr DOB was originally created as a statement that Japanese art doesn’t need to imitate American art, and should find its own means of expression.
Murakami has successfully blurred the lines between “low” and “high” art, between commercial and critical success. His art includes everything from “The Creatures from Planet 66” a series of characters for Roppongi Hills real-estate development in Tokyo (2003) , collaborations with music star Pharrel Williams, the design of luxurious Louis Vuitton handbags (2003), skateboards for Supreme Skate Decks (2007), sneakers and vans for Visvim Keifer (2008) and Vault by Vans (2015) and candy for Frisk Mints (2015), among successful projects.
And finally after a very long wait, Murakami is holding “Takashi Murakami: The 500 Arhats” his first major solo exhibition in Japan since 2001.
The 500 Arhats was created as a token of gratitude to the State of Qatar, one of the first countries to offer assistance in the wake of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, and was unveiled in Doha in 2012 and it’s now being shown in Tokyo.
Inspired by paintings of the Five Hundred Arhats by Kano Kazunobu and Nagasawa Rosetsu, Murakami enlisted over 200 student from the Japanese art colleges to carry out the arduous taste of completing, in a very short period of time, his 100 meter long The 500 Arhats. Addressing themes of religion and art, human mortality and limitations, this monumental work breaks new ground in Murakami’s creativity. The 500 Arhats are thought of as enlightened disciples of Buddha who remained on earth to spread the teachings of Buddha and give ordinary people salvation from worldly desires.
The exhibition focuses on Murakami’s recent works, mainly his epic The 500 Arhats, but also includes large sculptural pieces and abstract paintings. It’s been 14 years but the wait has been worth it!
Every piece invites you to contemplation. There are so many layers and details on them that’s it’s hard to absorb everything at once (aka I’m sooo coming back!)
The main gallery exhibiting The 500 Arhats – “Blue Dragon” and “White Tiger”. The scale of this piece is breathtaking!
Walking in awe from the beginning to the end, admiring everything of this monumental work.
“At the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, faced with a national emergency, the Japanese people experienced a sense of helplessness, yet despite this sense of helplessness people had to continue to live their lives. In order to recover from despair, we needed a narrative that would restore our hope, even if that narrative was a fictional one” (Takashi Murakami)
“Throughout history, religion and legends have offered such narratives, and now those stories are needed again. The Five Hundred Arhats is a story about healing 500 different varieties of human suffering. The balance between life and death was called into question after great natural disasters and the motif of the Five Hundred Arhats suddenly started to seem relevant.” (Extract from the exhibition)
The 500 Arhats – “Black Tortoise” and “Vermilion Bird”
“Though I would rather have never known… I hear that… our souls continue to live on after our death. In all those tens of thousands of years, billions of years… It cannot be that the soul would not deteriorate” (Murakami 2015)
Murakami massive exhibition offers a journey into his psychedelic world, to the high and the low art and everything in between, to the traditions and everything that breaks away from it. Thanks for coming back Murakami-san!
He is currently preparing to release a new live action feature film, Jellyfish Eyes 2, as well as the anime series 6HP (Six Hearts Princess).
Takashi Murakami: The 500 Arhats: Mori Art Museum, Roppongi Hills – From October 31, 2015 to March 6, 2016, Entrance Fee: Adults ¥1,600, University / High School Students ¥1,100, Children ¥600, Photography is allowed inside the galleries 🙂
All photos on this blog were snapped by me unless otherwise noted. If you see something you’d like to share, please be sure to provide a link back to this space. Thank you!