Murakami makes his mark at the Gagosian
Date: Thursday July 14th 2011 [15:42] | Posted By: Priss
This article features coverage of the Takashi Murakami Exhibition at London's Gagosian Gallery.
Due to the nature of some of the artwork on display in this article, we issue a NSFW content rating.
Takashi Murakami - the artist who brought the productions pop culture pastiche machine Kaikai Kiki to the cultural fore - returns to the UK with a remarkable and bold exhibition at London's Gagosian Gallery.
His works are renowned for their audacity, their overt and unfettered celebration of what moves the hearts and stokes the underbelly of the otaku generation. He takes us on incredible journeys that both reach into the future and reflect upon the rich history of the arts. His creative exploits shake the foundations that attempt to ground the concept, quality and definition of art.
He encourages us to see that modern art thrives within the realm of commerce and that the distinction between these two worlds is not so easy to draw in today's society. He also asserts that this debate is neither new nor unique in the era of an increasingly commercialised global culture.
The collection on display at the Gagosian is one of Murakami's most exciting and engaging exhibitions to date. In collaboration with several popular artists, he has reached into the heart and soul of contemporary commercial erotica through otaku culture. What emerges is a spectacle that is sensuous, sensational and sublime.
The exhibition highlights the legacy of Western-Japanese cultural exchange through a unique and remarkable homage to one of 20th century Japan's most influential artists. We are also challenged to consider the complex quandary that faces art and erotica with regards to censorship and cultural criticism.
Uniting sight, mind, fantasy and reality
When stepping into the main chamber of the gallery, the space itself seems to fall away as the gaze gravitates to the astounding objects in the room. You are lured into each artwork's orbit and transported to the Superflat space where the mind merges with the two and three dimensional realms of delight and desire. Dreams and nightmares reside within this world and are made tangible in our reality.
The artworks presented are a combination of sculpture and works on canvas. The gloriously gilded pieces exude a luxury befitting the décor of a royal palace.
The flavours of Japanese cuisine inspire the names of twin masculine and feminine sculptures. Mr Big Mushroom and Miss Clam evoke a sensual experience that directly associates sexual organs with oral orifices through their relationship to the ingredients after which they are named. The softly undulating waves in the silver flesh that forms into the apex of the female sex is complemented by a bold male erection in shining gold.
Both body parts have sweet expressions located at their erogenous summits. Happy smiles shine out on the cutesy clitoris and on the head of the golden glans. They are cheekily kawaii, featuring the same facial expressions Murakami uses to anthropomorphise clusters of daisies in his art.
The gilded sculptures are juxtaposed with two of Murakami's canvases. These focus on the stylised representation of the sexual organs prevalent in the shunga of ukiyo-e, classic woodblock erotica that was the original pornographic artistic trade for some of the Edo era's most prolific and revered artists. These are essentially a pair of close ups: money shots in modern art.
Tribute through triptych
Perhaps the most engaging element of the exhibition for the otaku is a series of nudes on canvas. For me, it was certainly the most exciting. These creations - from Murakami's latest collaborations - are presented alongside their inspirational source: a remarkable and beautiful triptych by seminal artist Seiki Kuroda entitled Sentiment, Impression, Wisdom.
The trio of modern works marks a collaboration with three artists responsible for some of the most beloved female character designs adored by the current otaku zeitgeist - computer game design artists TONY, Oyari Ashito, and KEI. It is perhaps one of Murakami's most subtly provocative projects for many years.
TONY is famous for his smooth, luxurious renderings of beautiful women. His designs feature in many games and he's also a prolific and popular creator of erotic dōjinshi featuring famous anime heroines in pornographic poses. His portraits - painted on canvas adorned with gold leaf - are distinctive from the accompanying works in the accuracy of anatomical detail he paints on the female forms.
Oyari Ashito is another accomplished games artist. The focus of his works tends to be delicate, lithe Lolitas as featured in the LittleWitch game series. He makes a departure from this trend with his reinterpretation of Kuroda's mature female nudes backed by platinum leaf in his contribution to the triptych.
The final, and perhaps most startling, contribution to the series is from artist KEI, who created the visual identity of one of the world's most famous virtual idols, Hatsune Miku of the Vocaloid musical synthesiser series. KEI's nudes are backed by an alternating pattern of platinum and gold, a checkerboard pattern reminiscent of the graphic representation of transparency layers used in the creation and synergy of computer-created graphics and illustrations.
Praising a pioneer
Considered to be the artistic instigator of cross-culturalisation, Seiki Kuroda is renowned for pioneering the Japanese movement in Western-style painting. For his role in uniting the aesthetics of Japan with those of the West, he is a figure of pivotal significance in the evolution of the style that now symbolizes the face of Japanese popular culture and the representation of female beauty.
To trace the question of why female character design in Japanese popular culture appears to be distinctly detached from Japanese racial features, Murakami has aligned the past with the present to reveal a story that's largely unknown to many fans of otaku art and culture. The juxtaposition between fantasy and reality provides a persuasive view on the nature and value of popular aesthetics in the arts of beauty and erotica.
The works by TONY, KEI and Ashito are soulful tributes to Kuroda. They challenge the typical (and largely Western) conceit that commercial art has to be annexed from ‘high' art. The beauty and significance of these works is both profound and moving for anyone who appreciates the talent of artists in the commercial realm.
Kuroda was also passionate about the presentation of the nude body, despite enduring both harsh criticism from and pressure in a repressive cultural climate. His works, although revered for their skill, were denounced as disgraceful when presented for public display. Censorship in Japan still prevalent exerts a great influence today, when even independent artists producing dōjinshi must exercise caution in their depiction of the sexual organs for fear of having their work suppressed. For a nation renowned for the wealth of its erotic arts in the popular media, this seems to be a peculiar protocol.
Satiating desires both subtle and grotesque
The commercial sculpting industry is subject to the same strict scrutiny and this has been the subject of Murakami's past projects such as the infamous gargantuan Hiropon. The sculpture is a nightmare vision of the capsule figurine: a commodity that usually stands at 10cm becomes monstrous in his creation and towers to over two metres high. She poses with a pair of engorged, lactating breasts that form a milky crescent around her body as she prances both playfully and pornographically with a strange skipping rope. Her pubic mound is presented in direct contrast to her overtly erotic torso, which bursts out of a string bikini. Despite Hiropon's full-frontal nudity, her hips are vacant of any form or detail.
Combining efforts once again with sculpting superstar Monsieur BOME, Murakami continues Project KO2 with an evolutionary progression of the art of the giant anime figurine. While I mooned over the beauty of the angelic Nurse KO2, a piece that I would dearly love to add to my own expansive figure collection, I was possessed with fascination for the other giantess in the room.
Taking the sexualised body to the female extreme brings KaiKai Kiki productions to a natural point for collaboration. In 3-Meter Girl, BOME and Murakami join forces with Matsuyama Seiji (best known for the series Eiken), a manga-ka who celebrates the erogenous by accentuating and enlarging female flesh to absurd proportions. This incredible monument to the erotic mores of moe and the glorification of massive mammaries is an accomplished vision, one that allows Murakami to penetrate into and place himself at the core of genuine otaku culture. 3-Meter Girl is breathtakingly gorgeous and grotesque in equal measure. She glimmers with a slick and somehow sickeningly pearly sheen from the tips of her jewel encrusted manicure to her mound of super-stylised hair.
As Nurse KO2 and 3-Meter Girl show the conceptual progression of Murakami's work, they also reflect the technological advancement of the mass production figure industry, featuring elements that have made appearances in popular figure sculpting over recent years such as fishnet stockings and transparent clothing. I wonder how many hentai fans would consider the maidzilla 3-Meter Girl to be an ultimate fantasy figure made real.
Graphic designer Nasos - populariser of a craze that has seen origami meet pop culture in paper craft - has designed the template used to create the giant boxy version of Project KO2 on display. There is also a complimentary cardboard version of the figure, presented on punched cardboard and ready for you to assemble so that you can participate in Project KO2 yourself.
If you are an appreciator of Japanese art and culture, I encourage you to go. If, however, you are an otaku with a weakness for all thing ecchi or indeed moe, I guarantee that this exhibition will be an experience you will never forget.
Special thanks goes to the Gagosian Gallery, Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki and Jonathan Marshall.
Credits for portraits of Takashi Murakami:
All artworks © Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved
Photography by Muir Vidler/Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery
Credits for installation shots of the exhibition:
All Artworks © Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved
Photography by Mike Bruce/Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery