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10 Facts You Should Know about Takashi Murakami
A closer look 14 Jan 2015

10 Facts You Should Know about Takashi Murakami

Takashi Murakami. Courtesy of MFA
Takashi Murakami, Courtesy of MFA

Who is Takashi Murakami? Famous for his colorful, anime-inspired artworks, Murakami is one of the world’s most important contemporary artists. Join us as we share ten different aspects of his artistic practice, from his “Superflat” style to his collaborations with big-name brands.

 1. A combination of modernism and tradition

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Takashi Murakami, 727, 1996

Even though Japanese artist Takashi Murakami is known for his visually contemporary and vibrant work, he also offers us a more subtle reflection and a clever play of contrasts between tradition and modernity. On a technical level, he uses artistic media and materials of cutting edge technology, and at the same time, he revives ancient Japanese artistic techniques like gold leaf painting. Also, on a more figurative level, he creates a color-saturated world – almost hallucinogenic – where Buddhist iconography and anime heroes share the canvas together. There are also hints of traditional references like Ogata Korîn and modern ones like Stanley Kubrick.

2. Superflat

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Kaikai Kiki

Takashi Murakami is the creator of the “Superflat” artistic movement. The term was used for the first time in 2001 during an exhibition he organized in Tokyo, retracing the origins of Japanese contemporary art through the history of Japanese traditional art. This artistic trend includes Japanese art inspired by manga and anime. In the word “Superflat” there is the word “flat,” that refers to the flatness found in Japanese pictorial art. This word also criticizes the vacuity of consumerist Japanese post-war culture.

 3. About Andy Warhol

Takashi Murakami, Warhol/Silver, 2009

Murakami’s art is strongly influenced by the work of Andy Warhol. Indeed, his two art pieces Warhol/Silver and Warhol/Gold are a direct reference to Warhol’s flower series. These works by Murakami communicate his deep respect for Warhol‘s legacy. In Sarah Thornton’s book Seven days in the Art World, when asked about Warhol, Takashi answers with a surprising frustration in his words:
“Warhol’s genius was his discovery of easy painting,” he explained. “I am jealous of Warhol. I’m always asking my design team, ‘If Warhol was able to create such easy paintings, why is our work so complicated?’ But history knows! My weak point is my oriental background. Eastern flavor is too much about presentation. I think it is unfair for me in the contemporary art battlefield, but I have no choice because I am Japanese.”

4. Kaikai Kiki Co

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Murakami’s studio

Like Warhol, Murakami created a sort of factory to produce his works in, Kaikai Kiki Co, that has turned into an empire. A lot like Jeff Koons‘ factory in New York, they are places of production where hundreds of workers execute different steps of the artistic process to realize the artist’s idea. However, Murakami goes further in this approach and creates numerous merchandise-like flower anime printed rugs referring to his signature motif.

5. Anime in Versailles

Flower Matango, Versailles, 2010

The Palace of Versailles has had two exhibitions that created uproar the past few years: Jeff Koons‘ retrospective in 2008, and Murakami’s exhibition in 2010. Takashi presented 22 sculptures and paintings, 11 of which were made specially for the event. This exhibition was condemned by certain activists like Versailles mon Amour and Non aux mangas. These groups both tried, unsuccessfully, to stop Murakami’s exhibition.

6. Different levels of understanding

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Tan Tan Bo, In Communication, 2014

Although Murakami’s work expresses an apparent psychedelic candor, he invites us to read between the lines and offers a solid pictorial reflection. Three levels of understanding appear to us.

The first level of understanding: a criticism of otaku, extremist anime fans who for Murakami, represent superficiality and emptiness. This fanatic insanity is exaggerated and mocked through his pictorial style of caricature and distortion.

The second level of understanding: the influence of society’s consumerist culture and its products in our personality and behavior.

The third level of understanding: Murakami achieves an interesting union between “high culture” and so-called  ”low” culture : a syncretism that raises the question of the legitimacy of this difference, a subject commonly debated in art world of today.

7. Mr. DOB

Mr. Dob

Mr. Dob, Takashi Murakami’s signature character, was revealed in 1992. Employed as a sort of self-portrait, it appeared at a time when artists like Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer were first introduced to Japan. The work of these artists is centered around the use of words. Their socially and politically-critical artworks had an impact on Murakami. Mr. Dob has a round head with two ears, like Mickey Mouse, the letter D is inscribed on the left ear and the letter b is inscribed on the right ear. Dob is a contraction of a Dada-like phrase “dobojite, dobojite” which means “why, why ?” With this singular alter-ego, Murakami wanted to create an icon, which, while authentically Japanese, would have universal appeal.

 8. Louis Vuitton

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Louis Vuitton x Murakami

In 2003, the famous fashion designer Marc Jacobs asked Murakami to join him on a collaboration where the artist would reinterpret Louis Vuitton’s classic handbags. This particular collection was interesting for Murakami on a creative level. Indeed, the brand accepted that the logo be interpreted in different colors, leaving him an artistic flexibility. Furthermore, the union born from this hybrid collaboration of a contemporary artist and a luxury brand was a revolution in the world of art and fashion.

9. Pop music

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It Girl, Pharrell Williams

Besides art and fashion, Murakami also produces music and audiovisual work. His first music video was for Kanye West in 2007 and recently Pharrell Williams. In September 2014, he directed the video for Pharrell’s song “It Girl,” where the singer has his own anime character.

10. My Lonesome Cowboy

Takashi Murakami, My Lonesome Cowboy, 1998

In May 2008, Murakami became one of the most expensive living artist in the world. His sculpture My Lonesome Cowboy (1998) sold for more than 15 million dollars at Christie’s auction house. Since then, the artist’s visibility has remained strong. At fairs and auction houses, his characteristic works are snapped up by collectors, seduced by the playful aesthetics and hidden irony of this iconic contemporary artist.