Saturday, May 31, 2008

Navigating the Bumpy Terrain of the Superflat

Friday I went on a guided tour of the current Takashi Murakami exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum.  I joined a small group arranged by Japan Society to see ©Murakami, the Japanese artist's installation that exhibits a chronology of his work from past to present, details his merging of art and commerce, and defines him as a brand name.  Although my husband and I saw this exhibit when it first opened here, being guided through it for a second time was both informative and refreshing.  From the guide we learned how the museum worked with Murakami to design the layout of the installation based on space and functionality.  Basically, the artist has total control of his work and how it is presented.  In fact, our guide mentioned "total control" several times during the tour.  He said it matter-of-factly, not maliciously, but it gave a lot of insight into the museum's preparation for the exhibit.  

As far as the actual artwork, I was blown away by the scale, vibrant color, and flatness of the pieces.  The flatness of his work is a key element of Murakami's artistic philosophy, which he calls Superflat.

My favorite work, however, is not physically flat at all.  It's Mr. Pointy and the Four Guards, a 22-foot tall fiberglass sculpture that sits in the Brooklyn Museum's lobby.  Cute and playful, Mr. Pointy and his companions are obvious references to Buddhist conventions.  The Mr. Pointy in this installation is one of four created by Murakami; another was displayed outside Rockefeller Center in 2003.

My introduction into the art of Takashi Murakami was at Roppongi Hills in Tokyo, although I didn't know at the time that the postcards I purchased at the Tokyo City View gift shop were designed by him.  A couple of years later, I experienced the Little Boy exhibit that Murakami curated for Japan Society, and he became my new favorite artist.  He draws me in with his cute characters, but I stay engaged with his political commentary on Japan, religion, and war. Through his company, Kaikai Kiki, he promotes his artwork and himself as well as his stable of artists.  He is often criticized by many Japanese for being a sell-out, but for some reason, it doesn't bother me.  Perhaps his art is enough for me to look past the fact that he enjoys making money.  But who doesn't?  I helped Murakami make more money by purchasing a few items at the museum store:

After the tour, our group walked a few blocks to Gen restaurant, where we were provided a set meal.  On the menu: vegetable curry soup, tempura lotus root with salmon, chirashi over wild rice, and our choice of entree dish - mine was salmon teriyaki with avocado - with green tea and a cold drink.  Since I was pressed for time because of work, I had to pass on the cold sake cocktail as well as dessert.  Despite being in a slight rush, I still enjoyed myself, but I do regret that I didn't have time to return to the museum to watch Murakami's Kaikai Kiki animations. The exhibit doesn't end until July 13, so there's still time to go back. 

One interesting thing I learned from a couple of Japanese ladies on the tour is that kikikaikai, the inverse of Murakami's company Kaikai Kiki, means the equivalent of "spooky" in Japanese. The ladies actually struggled to assign the word "spooky" as the exact translation; they mentioned the concept of "being dark and strange" as well.  I looked up kikikaikai in both my translator and Japanese-English dictionary, but didn't find an entry for it in either place.  Since the ladies who told me this are Japanese, I trust them, and I think Murakami's company name could be a play on words.  Even though his work is awfully cute, there is a spooky element to it.

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