Yesterday was the final day of the “©Murakami” exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, displaying a great many of Murakami Takashi’s works, old and new. It included sculptures such as My Lonesome Cowboy and Project Ko2, which were incidentally much smaller than I’d imagined them being; video animations featuring Kaikai and Kiki, and one created in collaboration with Kanye West; a Louis Vuitton store, a room showcasing Murakami brand commercial merchandise, and a great many paintings.
I had expected that it would be all new works (which would have been great too) and that the opportunity to see his older works was long past. But that not being the case, it was really great to see all these pieces in person which I’d previously only seen in books, magazines, and on the Internet. Murakami does a fantastic job of creating a light, fun, colorful, playful environment. His work is fun and playful and colorful, but, I feel, in its attempt to be “real” art, it confuses and ultimately disappoints. If Murakami were trying to show that “low” art, i.e. commercial art and/or pop culture could be or should be displayed in the great art museums of the world and regarded as equal to fine art, that’s one thing. That’s a sentiment I can agree with. Perhaps. But the fact that he paints in acrylic on canvas, that he uses such standard fine art modes, and the fact that the art world seems to regard him, if he does not regard himself, as a true artiste, a creator of art for art’s sake, creative works with true deep philosophical or cultural meaning and social commentary, makes him into something very different from the “low” art creator, the mangaka for example, who wishes to see his works regarded as fine art.
In short, Murakami is pretentious. Whether this is Murakami himself, or something ascribed onto him by the art world, by people who wish to exhibit his works, to interview him, to write about him, there is the feeling that this is fine art deserving of intense, deep, artistic analysis and criticism; analysis and criticism which, I think, ultimately fall flat. I look at these works and see something playful and fun, experiments in color and design, but as far as I am concerned, any assertion that these works express a deeper meaning is simply pretentious lies. None of these works individually nor considered together speak a commentary on commercialism or anything like that to me; only the artist, his writings, the art critics, say these things. The works do not, in my opinion.
If you want to give me a fun, colorful, playful experience devoid of serious sociological commentary or artistic meaning, do it in pop culture modes – anime, plastic figurines, toys and games of all sorts. Do it with Disneyland-style artificial environments. But if you want to do serious art, in sculpture and on canvas, show your meaning a bit more clearly, and do it in a mode recognizable as fine art, one that doesn’t scream cartoons. … Then again, perhaps it is precisely this divide that Murakami is trying to bridge, and to erase.
I suppose in the end, his works are both aesthetically pleasing and thought-provoking after all.
727 particularly grabs me. The gallery label said that it drew upon Shigisan Engi Emaki, which I don’t really see at all. But there is something about this work that makes it feel more “fine art” and more closely related to historical pre-modern Japanese art than anything else Murakami’s done. The way he sanded down the paint makes it look older, and the style of the wind (water? clouds?) and background are much more muted and traditional-looking than most of his works.
I do want a Project Ko2 action figure, if such things existed, and if she were more covered in certain strategic places. It’s a beautiful piece; I especially like the rainbow colors and the style of the wings; it would indeed make a nice action figure or statuette/figurine.
But I nevertheless stand by my previous assessment that (a) his works do not reflect the messages he does in his writings and interviews, and (b) I see no reason that he should be so far above all other Japanese contemporary artists in his fame, prominence, and exposure in the West. Where is everybody else?