Some time ago I wrote about Makoto Aida’s Harakiri Schoolgirls. The great modern Japanese masters appeared in front of me again, in the face of Takashi Murakami. During a recent trip toVenice, I visited Palazzo Grassi’s exhibition “The World belongs to you” where I saw Takashi Murakami’s masterpiece 727-272 (The Emergence of God at the Reversal of Fate). Takashi Murakami is indeed one of the modern Japanese Masters.
“Blurring the traditional lines between art, commerce, pop, and subcultural concerns, the range of Murakami’s creative pursuits are seemingly boundless. In addition to producing some of the most iconic paintings and sculptures of the past two decades, his “business-art” activities span from designing a full gamut of consumer merchandise (either for his own Kaikai Kiki label or for fashion houses such as Louis Vuitton and Comme des Garçons) to running a gallery that promotes young Japanese artists to hosting a weekly radio talk show in Tokyo—to name just a few of the many preoccupations that keep him working on a legendarily nonstop clock.” (Source: Interview Magazine)
Quoting from the Exhibition’s web site:
“(The work, especially commissioned for the space it occupies today in the Palazzo) draws on traditional sources ranging from Buddhist images, Zen painting, and 18th c. Edo-period compositional techniques that inspired Murakami to coin the phrase “superflat” to characterize the tendency throughout Japanese art history to eliminate threedimensional depth by arranging subjects non-hierarchically on a solid background. Murakami modernizes these traditions by combining them with contemporary Japanese popular culture, in the form of anime and manga (comic books), for instance in the central figure, Mr. Dob, Murakami’s own alter-ego depicted with a typically manga-style face. Mr. Dob’s figure contrasts with that of the legendary Chinese emperor Shennong, the deity of agriculture and medicine, who lived around 2700 BCE. This work illustrates how Murakami deftly links the traditional with the contemporary, Western with Japanese, high art and mass culture”
“The starting-point for this pictorial narrative is the central figure of “Mr Dob”; a sort of alter ego of Murakami himself, this character is depicted with a typically manga-style face, a sly smile and three eyes that seem to look far into the distance. The narrative starts on the right, with the flow of color, comparable to that one finds in Warhol’s Oxidation paintings, bringing us to the second figure of the work. This is an old wise man inspired by the legendary Chinese emperor Shennong, who lived around 2700 BC.”
“Considered the deity of Agriculture, his name actually means “heavenly peasant” – Shennong would invent the plough and teach his people how to cultivate wheat and cereal crops. He is also celebrated as a deity of Medicine: according to legend, he would test hundreds of herbs to evaluate their curative properties; if of beneficial properties, the herb was said to light up his stomach – which was transparent – if harmful, it would blacken it. This is the role in which Murakami depicts Shennong, with a blade of grass in his mouth.”
The work from the spectator’s view comprises three panels, forming an open rectangle. The front panel has Mr Dong and the Emperor.
Murakami must not be taken lightly because people call him “pop”, or because he likes “manga”, or because he has the tendency to be also in the fashion business.
As you can see in this detail of the front panel, he knows his painting and he creates some staggering compositions within compositions.
The left panel has among other things, a stunning swirl, and some ideograms.
The swirl, making direct reference to a tempest, appears often in Japanese art.
As to the ideograms, I have no clue about what they are, but I will find out.
Moving to the right panel, we are faced with a hollow mountain of skulls on top of which is a manga tiger.
It should be clear by now that we are not talking about a single painting here, but a mix of paintings all coming together in the three panels.
In addition to the multiplicity of themes of this “collage”, one must also notice the changing texture of the paint and the colors, and the ruptures, or discontinuities that mark the shift from one to another.
Bruce Wallace of the Los Angeles Times, notes:
“Murakami’s art speaks to the sensibilities of the generation born in the 1960s, those who grew up with the reverberations of World War II’s disaster pulsing through the culture. They were raised on a media diet of anime and manga, with their anti-technology, antiwar story lines and themes. And they came of age in an era when Japan could throw up little more than Marxist jargon in resistance to the deluge of imported American culture.”
“Surface is everything to Murakami—it’s all there is. I don’t know if you’re allowed to say this, but like a lot of contemporary Japanese artists Murakami is a craftmaster-whiz of flawless visual effects. He draws on traditional Japanese themes like flatness, pattern, and ornamentation. His kaleidoscopic paintings of Hokusai-like waves, his Lichtensteinian splashes, and DOB, his big-headed Mickey Mouse–like creature, are so immaculate you will think a machine made them.” (Jerry Saltz, Village Voice, 1999)