Andy Warhol of the west and Takashi Murakami of the east, are icons of consumerism arts of different generations. Speaking of blurring the line between high arts and popular culture, Warhol was not the first one to practice, and neither was Murakami. However, being so “serious” and so successful as far as to bring the super-pop, super-commercial and super-“childish” arts into an iconic domain of high arts and cultures like the Versailles, Murakami is the unique one.
Born in the after-war Tokyo, Murakami encountered the age of rapid economic development and the explosion of consumerism. He is one of the few Japanese contemporary artists who managed to use Japan-oriented pop culture as the subject of his arts and landed it onto an international stage. Japanese Animation, Comics and Game, the famous abbreviation being ACG, influenced Murakami deeply from a very young age, and later on became the major inspiration of his. Before releasing The Declaration of the Power of Childishness, the artist had released The Declaration of the Super-flat in 1996, and in it he said, “the future society, custom, arts and cultures will all be like Japan, extremely two-dimensional…Nowadays, Japanese video games and cartoons are able to show such features, which exert impressive power to the world.”
The so-called “super-flat” is very much self-explanatory, used to describe the arts based on the origins of Japanese two-dimensional animation and comics. These images bear absolutely no illusion of the realistic, full of the sense of fantasy, while not as obscure as, say, abstract arts. In other words, they are easy to consume, which is precisely the vision of Murakami and the spirit of consumerism. Unlike the works of Warhol where ample ready-made images are exploited, the visual signs in Murakami’s paintings are mostly original, such as the most famous one, the sunflowers; the skulls, often discussed in relation to the topic of death, in dramatic contrast to its “cute” style; and the fashion icon, MR. DOB.
Compared with Warhol’s somehow distant attitude in his comments on the mass production, Murakami’s repetition of the same motif with a variety of shapes and colors which giving a sense of implied insanity and craziness, visualizes the mental state of people under the influence of consumerism in nowadays society. The artist himself stated once that “my way of creation is to grasp people’s desire” – from this perspective, there seems to be a ever present dark undertone in his works.
On the other hand, his arts style and exploration in the world of consumerism lead him to huge commercial success. His work 727 was sold with a price over a hundred million yen (over 9.7 million US dollars), making it the highest priced Japanese contemporary artworks. The prestigious French luxury brand Lois Vuitton also sought to work in collaboration with him for more than once.
This time Je Fine Arts Gallery assembled a collection of prints of Murakami’s most celebrated works including the series of the sunflowers, the skulls, MR. DOB, and the 500 Arhats displayed in his latest exhibition in Tokyo, with the artist’s autograph. The seemingly “childish” attraction and pursuit in Murakami’s works are in fact profound reflection of contemporary popular culture, which makes his works a universal phenomenon and sought after all over the word.