In Meiro Koizumi's three-channel video installation, The Angels of Testimony (2019), the central frame features an interview with Hajime Kondo about his time as a solider of the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The conversation centres on war crimes perpetrated in China, including the beheading of Chinese prisoners for...
Diana Campbell Betancourt is a curator working predominantly across South and Southeast Asia. Since 2013 she has been the founding artistic director of the Samdani Art Foundation and chief curator of the Dhaka Art Summit in Dhaka, Bangladesh, a transnational art event that has grown in size and scale ever since its first edition in 2012. Backed by...
China, home to 802 million internet users, is subject to sophisticated online censorship. This shrouded state of affairs, unsurprisingly perhaps, serves to reinforce stereotypes around conformity elsewhere. Any realm, digital or otherwise, subject to such strict scrutiny must necessarily be bland and uncritical, right? I was mulling over such...
Akiko Miki, International Artistic Director of the Benesse Art Site in Naoshima, Japan, presents one of the most unconventional collector's stories in Japan, that of the artist Takashi Murakami, as well as the exhibition she curated in 2016 at the Yokohama Museum of Art on Murakami's collection.
Best known for his distinctive anime-inspired characters and worlds of explosive neon colours, Takashi Murakami garnered international attention in the late 1990s with his cartoon-like paintings and sculptures.
Murakami's aesthetics largely derive from his concern with the emergence of kawaii (cute) visual culture in post-war Japan. After Japan's surrender to the Allies in 1945, Japanese artists turned to creating cartoon fantasies and harmless characters such as Hello Kitty and Doraemon as a way of reinventing their culture. When these icons began to gain popularity inside and outside Japan, the Japanese government also adopted them—issuing Hello Kitty stamps, for example—to reinvent the country as cool, youthful and approachable.
Murakami uses his kawaii characters to critique Japanese society. In the painting Super Nova (1999), for example, cartoon mushrooms are infested with eyeballs on their bodies. By appropriating anime aesthetics to depict the effects of nuclear explosion on life, Murakami subverted the playfulness and fantasy expected of anime in an attempt to force the viewer to confront reality.
At the same time, Murakami regards kawaii as a means for Japan to establish a cultural cache overseas and has successfully introduced his characters into international popular culture. Between 2002 and 2015, he famously collaborated with Louis Vuitton to redesign the brand's iconic logo print in his signature neon colour palette, and to incorporate his smiling flowers and big-eared characters into its luxury bags. His creations have also appeared in the music industry, notably his artwork for Kanye West albums (Graduation , Kids See Ghosts ) and collaborations with Pharrell Williams to create a sculpture at Art Basel Miami Beach (2009) and a music video (Last Night, Good Night ).
In addition to his anime-inspired characters, Murakami's practice is informed by contemporary events and religious iconography. His solo exhibition In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow at Gagosian New York in 2014 was conceived as a reaction to the Great Tōhoku Earthquake and the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011. For the works in the exhibition, Murakami borrowed from Buddhist, Daoist and Japanese Shinto imageries—such as the enlightened Buddhist monks in the painting Isle of the Dead (2014)—and reinterpreted them as his signature psychedelic, anime-style characters, creating an environment that cultivated spirituality and encouraged healing in the aftermath of the catastrophe.
By the early 2000s, Murakami's style had captivated the imagination of younger artists and spurred an art movement in Japan that came to be known as 'Superflat'. Inspired by the kawaii aesthetics, Superflat artists seek to conflate the dichotomies of high and low art while combining the flatness of traditional Japanese painting with references to both Eastern and Western popular cultures.
Since his introduction to the international art world in the 1990s, Murakami has ventured beyond the galleries to work as a curator and entrepreneur. In 2001, he organised a group show titled Superflat at MOCA Pacific Design Center, West Hollywood. Other notable exhibitions curated by Murakami include Little Boy: The Arts of Japan's Exploding Subculture at Japan Society Gallery, New York (2005); Kazunori Hamana, Yuji Ueda, and Otani Workshop at Blum & Poe, New York (2016); and Juxtapoz x Superflat at Vancouver Art Gallery (2016). Murakami has also been the head of his company, Kaikai Kiki, since 2001. The company represents the forerunners of the Superflat movement, such as Chiho Aoshima, Chinatsu Ban and Aya Takano, and supports aspiring Japanese artists.
Murakami completed his studies at Tokyo University of the Arts and holds a PhD in nihonga. He has exhibited extensively around the world, including Tokyo, Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Paris, Frankfurt and Qatar. In 2010, his sculptures and paintings were displayed in 15 rooms of the Palace of Versailles as part of his first major retrospective in France. The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago also arranged a survey of his works in 2017, many of which had never been shown in North America. An equally recognised artist in his homeland, Murakami was awarded the 66th Art Encouragement Prize by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in 2016.
Located next to the Japanese embassy, it was only a matter of time before Japan would become the focus of Asia Now's annual Platform, with the nation-wide Japonismes 2018 offering a catalyst to do so. The Japanese Platform for the 4th Asia Now (17–21 October 2018) was organised by Emmanuelle de Montgazon, associate curator of the Japanese Season at...
'Founded by Claude Fain and Alexandra Fain, ASIA NOW aims to present the new perspectives and issues for contemporary Asian art and its market: the value of its artists, its potential for development and its rising stars.'–Asia Now Paris (17–21 October 2018).
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