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Etsuko Nakajima. Courtesy Perrotin.
In November 2018, Perrotin debuted its fourth gallery in Asia in the heart of Shanghai. The space was inaugurated with the exhibition Takashi Murakami in Wonderland, on view through January 5.
Just after the opening, Whitewall caught up with the woman behind the new location, Etsuko Nakajima.
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.
Perrotin Shanghai is pleased to present an exhibition by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. The show will be the artist's first solo show in mainland China and will feature several new works created for the exhibition that encompass many of the themes and characters that have come to define his career. This presentation of work also marks the artist's largest gallery show to date in Asia.
Murakami's exhibition, which is the culmination of a collaboration spanning a quarter of a century between the artist and Emmanuel Perrotin, will bring to Shanghai new and recent creations that are of a wide range of dimensions, from single-panel canvases to a monumental, ambitious, 15-meter-long acrylic painting mounted on an aluminium frame, as well as sculpture, which includes the towering, 200 cm Invoking the Vitality of a Universe Beyond Imagination (2014) that was created using platinum leaf (a material found in several works in the exhibition).
Even before competing his initial artistic training in ink painting, Murakami made it his purpose to unsettle the status quo in Japan's art world, primarily by referencing contemporary Japanese conditions and sensibilities. As the artist once said, 'On one side, I am trying to show my compatriots what 'art' means on a global scale. And on the other, to the foreigners, I am trying to show the essence of our current culture.'1 During a brief stint in New York in the 1990s, Murakami grappled with his place—and the position of Japanese or East Asian artists—among the contemporary art system, particularly New York's art world. This led to a creative decision to blur the line between fine art and subculture, and to mold a new identity as a Japanese artist.
This ideal and Murakami's spirit of artistic rebellion are best embodied by Mr. DOB, a whimsical character that has been appearing in the artist's work for over two decades and one that plays a significant role throughout the exhibition. Through several different manifestations of Mr. DOB, the exhibition is a visual journey through the evolution of the character. Mr. DOB's name is lifted from the Japanese slang expression dobojite, which means 'why?' The icon's sharp teeth, cartoon eyes, and murine ears are inspired by many sources and together, these features exemplify Murakami's inspiration drawn from youth culture, specifically anime and manga. Though Mr. DOB's appearance constantly changes in the artist's many works—at times playful and innocent, at times menacing with fangs bared—he remains instantly recognisable, often with the letters of his name emblazoned across his face and ears. More recently, Murakami has said that Mr. DOB is the artist's self-portrait after 20 years of 'working together,'2 with the figure acting as a vessel through which Murakami can channel his artistic struggles.
Other familiar patterns in the artist's oeuvre will be included in the exhibition. Though Murakami has said in the past that he initially 'didn't like flowers' and that their smell and shape made him 'almost physically sick,'3 they eventually became an integral part of his work. He embraced the beaming, overjoyed flora and adopted it as one of his emblems when preparing for entrance exams for the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music4 and after spending nearly a decade teaching prep-school students how to draw flowers. Now, the iconiccandy-coloured petals surrounding smiling faces are one of his most often employed motifs. This can be seen in several works throughout the exhibition, showcasing the progression of this concept from canvas to 3D sculpture.
Also included in the extensive showcase of Murakami's work are several museum-quality paintings, including artistically complex and post-apocalyptic themed canvas works which command an audience based on the philosophical subject matter if not due to their scale and microscopic details alone. The gallery will also feature a special Takashi Murakami merchandise room-the first of its kind in China-full of exclusive goodies, plush flowers and other accessories.
Born in 1962 and raised in Tokyo, Takashi Murakami graduated from the Tokyo National University of the Fine Arts and Music in 1993 with a PhD in nihonga (literally, 'Japanese painting'), and then proceeded to explore more contemporary visual styles. He coined the term Superflat to describe the postwar aesthetics and culture in his home country, including its impact on consumerism and sexual fetishism—a flattened 20th-and 21st-century Japanese society complementing a visual perspective in traditional Japanese art, melding high and low culture, or even shattering the distinction between the two.
In 2001, Murakami set up the art production company and artist management agency Kaikai Kiki, employing many younger artists to assist him in making his wide-ranging projects come to life. This act transformed his art into merchandise and a brand, in response to his own frustration regarding the lack of an art market in Japan during the early stages of his career. Murakami's direction also allows for incredible detail to be inserted into large-scale works that would otherwise be impossible to create by a single artist, expanding the possibilities of his creative endeavors and output. He also continues to act as a curator and mentor to several Japanese artists, whom he has been known to discover on social media.
Aside from fine arts, Murakami also engages commercial media, such as fashion, animation and movies. He has collaborated with French couture brand Louis Vuitton and Virgil Abloh, as well as musical artists Kanye West, Kid Cudi and Drake, and directed the Japanese fantasy film, Jellyfish Eyes (2013). With a prolific body of work that consists of paintings, sculptures, screen prints, drawings, video, popular merchandise and more, the artist's many contributions to the contemporary art scene have established him as one of the world's most recognisable cultural figures.
Born in 1962 in Tokyo, Takashi Murakami lives and works in Tokyo, Japan. The artist holds a BFA (1986), MFA (1988) and Ph.D. (1993) from the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, Tokyo, Japan (now called Tokyo University of the Arts). In 2018, Takashi Murakami was exhibited at the Fondation Louis Vuitton and at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. In 2019, Murakami will have solo shows at Tai Kwun in Hong Kong and Instituto Tomie Ohtake in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Since 2015, seven high-profile international museums have hosted major Takashi Murakami personal exhibitions: Mori Art Museum of Tokyo, Yokohama Museum of Art, Astrup Fearnley Museet of Oslo, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo and Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow. The exhibitions all brought a record number of visitors to the museums in which they were held.
1-Source: HIGH, LOW AND SUPERFLAT Murakami Deconstructed (Christie's).
2-Source: Interview with the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
3-Source: Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, Takashi Murakami, Paris (2002), p. 84.
4-Now called Tokyo University of the Arts (2008).
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