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Book review

Books on Takashi Murakami

Overview by Ilmira Bolotyan, Maryana Karysheva, Maria Litovchenko, and Maria Shmatko

While Garage is showing Takashi Murakami’s Under the Radiation Falls, the Museum’s research team have prepared an overview of books about Murakami and Japanese contemporary art.

Double Vision. Contemporary Art from Japan

Moscow Museum of Modern Art, 2012

The exhibition Double Vision. Contemporary Art from Japan was shown at Moscow Museum of Modern Art in 2012 and featured works by thirty-one artists of different generations. According to the exhibition’s curators Kenjiro Hosaka and Elena Yaichnikova the idea behind the show was to explore Japanese culture beyond stereotypes. The title pointed to a possible duality in our understanding of the world, condensed into a dichotomy of the real, or the everyday on the one hand, and the imaginary or fantasy on the other. The catalogue comes in two corresponding parts.

The Imaginary section contains a selection of works that develop themes and imagery traditional for Japanese culture. These include manga by Makoto Aida; Takahiro Iwasaki’s shrine models built of everyday objects and Akira Yamaguchi’s yamato-e paintings. The section also features critical works, such as Takashi Murakami’s Polyrhythm (currently on show at Garage)—a sheet of unpainted fibre-reinforced plastic covered with American toy soldiers.

According to Kenjiro Hosaka, after the tragic events that Japan experienced in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, "people, and especially young people, have been looking for a stable reality (since their habitual reality seemed unstable)", often finding it in computer games and other media. However, Japanese art that deals with politics and the everyday reality is just as interesting.

Yoshinori Niwa’s absurd interventions, featured in The Real World section, break the habitual patterns in our understanding of the world. His Pointless Group Photo of 76 People (2009) is a group portrait of random passers-by in Toronto. In Transforming Puddle A to Puddle B (2004), the artist moves water between two puddles on either side of the former Berlin wall in his mouth.

The works of Chim↑Pom collective focus on the social and political issues relevant specifically for the Japanese society. In 2009, they wrote the word Bang! in the sky over Hiroshima and in 2011 shot a series of videos near the Fukushima I nuclear power plant.

The catalogue also contains a selection of articles from several issues of Japanese art journal Bijutsu techō, published since 1948. I. B.

Takashi Murakami. The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg

Skira Rizzoli Publications, Inc. 2017

The octopus eating its own leg is one of the characters of the Murakami universe created for the artist’s exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. According to the show’s curator Michael Darling, the self-consuming octopus is a metaphor for modern Japan that goes out of its way and compromises itself in order to adjust to contemporary Western culture. On the other hand, for Murakami, the choice of such character to represent his work is an ironic act of self-deprecation: widely criticised in his homeland, Murakami uses irony to distance himself from his work.

"In biological terms, an octopus will commit this self-cannibalization during times of stress, often if a virus or bacteria is present, but the leg will regenerate and life will go on," Darling explains. "…In typical Murakami fashion, we went back to ancient Japanese folklore," he continues "to find a way to address the urbanity and contemporaneity of […] artist’s three decades of painting."

Drawing many aesthetic parallels, Darling compares Murakami’s works to the art of Anselm Kiefer, Yves Klein, and the artists of The Pictures Generation, including Robert Longo. Other articles in the catalogue analyze his work in the broader context of Japanese popular culture, its traditional and contemporary art. Akira Mizuta Lippit looks at Murakami’s own writings and his concept of "superflat," according to which all "distinctions between high and low, new and old, original and derivative are flattened into a superficial gloss that covers contemporary society." V. L.

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Takashi Murakami: Ensō

Perrotin, 2015

In Zen tradition, ensō is a calligraphic circle that symbolizes enlightenment, the universe or the void. Often turning to ensō in his recent works, in 2015 Murakami presented his interpretation of the symbol at an exhibition in Tokyo. The minimalism of his ensō series will come as a surprise—or perhaps a disappointment—to those who are used to Murakami’s complex and elaborate works with many characters.

As Murakami explains in the preface to the publication, "my brush would move with a life of its own, where I would have no greed or desire." This state of inner peace, the artist believes, has allowed him to create the entire body of work.

Murakami’s interest in Zen goes beyond ensō. In a series of his works devoted to one of the founders of the movement, Daruma (Bodhidharma), Murakami depicts the cut-off arm of the monk Eka, which the student brought to Daruma as a symbol of his commitment to studying Zen.

The article by Mari Hashimoto offers a detailed introduction to the history of ensō and Zen in China and in Japan—from the myth about the lotus flower to the influence of Zen on the beat generation and contemporary culture. M.L.

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Murakami Versailles

Editions Zavier Barral, 2010


The Palace of Versailles regularly hosts exhibitions by contemporary artists, and Takashi Murakami exhibited in 2010, after Jeff Koons in 2008, and Xavier Veilhan in 2009. Murakami Versailles contains detailed information on the project, from preparatory sketches for certain works to exhibition views.

The book opens with a panoramic view of the park of Versailles with a golden Buddha shining at its center and dwarfing the park’s geometric alleys. In his interview with Philippe Dagen, Murakami speaks of his long investigation into pop art and his influences, ranging from something as broad as Japanese post-war culture to the art of Jackson Pollock. However, the main feature of this publication are the photographs: Murakami’s sculptures in Versailles interiors become a starting point for fascinating intellectual adventure.

Cédric Delsaux’s photographs, showing the sculptures from angles inaccessible to the palace’s visitors, have great artistic merit of their own: Murakami’s smiling flowers are reflected in gilded baroque plasterwork, Kaikai and Kiki join the row of bronze Roman portraits, while a naked manga king with a microphone in his hand becomes part of the painted battle scene. M. Sh.

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Takashi in Superflat Wonderland

PLATEAU, 2013

The catalogue for Takashi Murakami’s 2013 exhibition in Seoul contains photographic documentation of the show and three texts. In the first, the exhibition’s curator Soyeon Ahn offers a critique of the Western patronizing view of art from the rest of the world and analyses Murakami’s, and other artists’ attempts to change the status quo. Considering Murakami’s mythology, its origins and development, Soyeon Ahn points out its intersections with Western culture, and in particular with Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (which is reflected in the title of the exhibition), which matches Murakami’s "superflat" universe in its madness. These questions are also discussed in the curator’s interview with the artist.

In the third text, art critic Chungwoo Lee focuses on two characters from Murakami’s universe—Mr DOB and Miss Ko2—discussing Murakami’s connections with the Japanese otaku culture, Western postmodernism, and the Great East Japan Earthquake, which led to thousands of deaths and had a great impact on Murakami’s work. M. K.

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