Takashi Murakami, Japan’s ‘Superflat’ King

Garage Museum

The façade of the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow © Garage Museum of Contemporary Art

From 29 September 2017 to 4 February 2018, visitors can immerse themselves in Murakami’s universe at Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, which will host the first major survey of his work in Russia.

Takashi Murakami’s fantastical world is populated by monstrous and adorable characters such as his signature accumulations of cartoon skulls, flowers and mushrooms, references to canonical Japanese art and explores the post-Hiroshima and Nagasaki condition. He says: “After the Second World War, we had no voice in Japan; we just had to keep on smiling even though we couldn’t have a discussion. Kawaii [Japan’s culture of cuteness] came from that background. With the mouthless Hello Kitty, it’s cute but a little bit creepy at the same time. I had to understand where in Japanese history this popular character came from. It’s not just about cuteness, but there’s a true story behind it.” The 55-year-old artist is giving people a history lesson through his art, although it’s never overtly political. Carrying a hidden message, there’s a certain sinister, dark, side to his smiling figures.

From 29 September 2017 to 4 February 2018, visitors can immerse themselves in Murakami’s universe at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, which will host the first major survey of his work in Russia, spanning his career from the mid-1990s until today. Just as his creative process is a bridge between the past and the future, the show is a meeting of civilisations, a juxtaposition of historical heritage and contemporary work, and proof of how art from different centuries and cultures can cohabit. Since 2000, he has aimed to blur the line between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art with his ‘Superflat‘ aesthetic.

Murakami is a workaholic perfectionist and shrewd entrepreneur, who has succeeded in creating a multidisciplinary art encompassing paintings, sculptures, films and TV shows steeped in the culture of manga, kawaii, pop art and Zen Buddhism, melding Japanese and Western influences. Having graduated from Tokyo University of the Arts with a doctorate in Nihonga — a Japanese painting style dating from the end of the 19th century — Murakami made his way to New York thanks to a scholarship, where he promptly immersed himself in Pop Art. Upon his return to Japan, he plunged into the otaku universe of young Japanese manga, anime and video-game addicts. Today, his style fuses cutting-edge techniques with the savoir-faire of traditional Japanese art, particularly ukiyo-e (floating world) prints.

It was a visit to ‘The 500 Arhats’ exhibition at Mori Art Museum in 2015 — Murakami’s first major solo show in Japan in 14 years, which presented his monumental 100m-long, four-panel painting depicting 500 enlightened disciples of Buddha — that convinced Garage’s directors to invite him for a retrospective. Approximately 60 of his artworks on loan from private and public collections, and several new pieces will sit alongside 18th and 19th century Japanese engravings and paintings. His aesthetic will even invade Garage’s non-exhibition spaces such as the café, bookshop and façade.

Murakami’s works are a combination of extensive art historical and technical research, carefully considered composition, mesmerising patterns and colours, and impeccable, laborious execution carried out by an army of assistants in his New York and Tokyo studios, emulating ancient models of collective production. An exhibition highlight will be the recreation of his ‘factory’, where visitors will get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of studio life with his installation team working on site and through the display of archival materials. In keeping with his backing of emerging artists, a ‘wet’ studio will provide a space for young Russian artists to learn his painting techniques.

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