Takashi Murakami

army of mushrooms

Takashi Murakami is a prolific contemporary Japanese artist who works in both fine arts media—such as painting—as well as digital and commercial media. He blurs the boundaries between high and low art by appropriating popular themes from mass media and pop culture, and turning them into thirty-foot sculptures, ‘Superflat’ paintings, or marketable commercial goods such as figurines or phone caddies.

He is interested in otaku culture (a Japanese term used to refer to people with obsessive interests, particularly anime, manga, or video games), which he felt was more representative of modern-day Japanese life. Murakami’s style, called ‘Superflat,’ is characterized by flat planes of color and graphic images involving a character style derived from anime and manga. It is an artistic style that comments on otaku lifestyle and subculture, as well as consumerism and sexual fetishism.

Like Andy Warhol, Takashi Murakami takes low culture and repackages it, and sells it to the highest bidder. Also like Warhol, Murakami makes his repacked low culture available to all other markets in the form of paintings, sculptures, videos, T-shirts, key chains, mouse pads, plush dolls, cell phone caddies, and $5,000 limited-edition Louis Vuitton handbags. This is comparable to Claes Oldenburg, who sold his own low art, high art pieces in his own store front in the 1960s.

What makes Murakami different is his methods of production, and range of stores that sell his work (toy stores, candy aisles, comic book stores, and the French design house of Louis Vuitton to name few). When asked him about straddling the line between art and commercial products, and mixing art with branding and merchandizing, Murakami said, ‘I don’t think of it as straddling. I think of it as changing the line. What I’ve been talking about for years is how in Japan, that line is less defined. Both by the culture and by the post-War economic situation. Japanese people accept that art and commerce will be blended; and in fact, they are surprised by the rigid and pretentious Western hierarchy of ‘high art.’

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