NEW YORK, NY.- Takashi Murakamis work is on view at the gallery from September 2nd through October 8th. The exhibition is comprised of a group of rarely seen photographs, his coveted prints and a major painting showcasing his most iconic characters for which he has become internationally well known. The works belong to his most innovative period as well as works from important periods where he created some of his most far reaching leit motifs.
Some of Murakamis iconic characters in the exhibition include his smiling flowers, Jellyfish eyes, Miss KO2 and skulls. Miss KO2, a fundamental work as it was the first large sculpture he created, which is an emblem of peace. It further symbolizes femininity and a timeless sex-symbol. In 2011, Murakami first started incorporating skulls that reference death and decay in relation to post-war Japanese society, and the dichotomy between joy and terror, which is why the skulls are also colorful.
His smiling flowers evoke repressed emotions of the collective trauma triggered by the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, where the flower expresses contradictory emotions. Jellyfish eyes are pivotal, as he wanted to reflect the search for an identity. He was influenced by the use of eyes in Surrealist works that encouraged viewers to interact with the work and establish a relation. However, his work does not create a bond with the viewer nor is it necessarily an aesthetically pleasing experience. Instead, it is a more simple appreciation where the eyes make it a physical experience.
In order to understand his general artistic production and his characters, which are seemingly just manga cartoons invented by the artist, it is fundamental to understand the context in which he created them. After obtaining his PhD in traditional Japanese painting Nihonga, he became very critical of Japanese post-war art. One has to keep in mind that although Japan today is a world power, they lost World War II, and the defeat not only created a trauma that would affect many generations, but it also made them loose their sense of national identity. Therefore, Murakami describes Japan during this time as classless and completely flattened. Furthermore, during the 1950s the reconstruction of post-war Europe and Japan was heavily influenced by the United States. This caused a merging of cultural borders and national traditions, particularly artistic traditions that were isolated to the margins of society and American pop culture became predominant. This is why Murakami invented his famous concept of Superflat that he published in 2000, which he also borrowed from Western modernist art where the central theme was the flatness of the surface. More importantly, he believes that the art produced during the post-war was completely westernized and lacked a true Japanese identity. For Murakami, the groups that emerged during that time, such as Gutai, were discovered later and primarily recognized by foreigners and only because of that were raised to the status of prestigious art. On the other hand, although Murakami studied traditional painting, he had always been very interested in manga and anime. As a matter of fact, Superflat involves using elements of what is considered low art, anime and manga, presenting them as high-art. Murakami began to focus on Japan's 'low' culture, and the larger subculture of otaku, which is a word that describes people with consuming interests, generally, manga, video games, anime or computers. Thus, his characters help blur the frontier between low and high art.