Takashi Murakami - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Saturday, November 24, 2018 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Galerie Perrotin, Hong Kong
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Australia, Art Gallery of South Australia, 2016 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art: Magic Object, 27 February - 15 May 2016

  • Catalogue Essay

    Takashi Murakami’s spectacular painting, Untitled, bridges traditional Japanese-style nihon-ga painting and the worlds of contemporary art, animation, and popular culture. Murakami is one of the most thought-provoking Japanese artists of the 1990s who is described as ‘the king of the colourful psychedelic style he has coined ‘Superflat’.” (Tina Xu, "Takashi Murakami: Lineage of Eccentrics Museum of Fine Arts," Modern Painters 29, no. 12, December 2017, p. 156-157.) From exalted rituals to youthful pastimes such as anime and manga, traditional nihon-ga painting to the work of Abstract Expressionist hero Jackson Pollock and Pop genius Andy Warhol, Murakami’s diverse sources of inspiration give way to hybridised forms that speak as much to Japanese artistic traditions as to American styles and movements. Mixing playful vibrant characters resembling cartoons, with darker, more menacing subtexts, Untitled offers a coveted and painstakingly detailed painting exemplary of the multifaceted work that has earned Murakami the revered status of Contemporary pop art icon.

    Murakami’s “Superflat” theory integrates past traditions with present-day concerns. Untitled references rinpa, a style that appealed to imperial patrons and was a key part of revival in the Edo period of yamato-e, indigenous Japanese artistic interests. Similar to the highly decorative, patterned, and rhythmic aesthetic of rinpa, “superflat” describes the two-dimensional graphic style created by overlaying multiple transparencies and applying paint in a non-hierarchical fashion to every detail to build a cohesive work that is flattened into one image. Murakami’s interest in flatness extends beyond mere formal concerns. As Tetsuo Shimizu explains, “superflatness refers to the flatness of a mirror that reflects our other self, our alter ego, suffocating from internal contradictions.” (Tetsuo Shimizu quoted by Amada Cruz, “DOB in the Land of Otaku,” Takashi Murakami: The Meaning of the Nonsense of the Meaning, New York, 1999, p. 19.) Historian Takashi Fujitani posits that in contemporary Japan, the “flattening out of culture—the collapse of history, meaning, and eternal truths—may, in fact, be stimulating a new search for authenticity.” (Takashi Fujitani quoted by Dana Friis-Hansen, “The Meaning of Murakami’s Nonsense: About ‘Japan’ Itself,” Takashi Murakami: The Meaning of the Nonsense of the Meaning, New York, 1999.) Murakami’s flatness also points to the flattening of high and low culture. He clarifies, “Japanese people accept that art and commerce will be blended… In the West, it certainly is dangerous to blend the two because people will throw all sorts of stones. But that’s okay—I’m ready with my hard hat.”(Takashi Murakami, Massimilliano Gioni, Qatar Museums Authority, and Al Riwaq (Doha, Qatar), Murakami: Ego, New York, 2012, p. 228.)

    Untitled blurs the boundaries between so-called high and low art. Jean Baudrillard writes that one solution for artists in the face of commercialisation was for art to “become more mercantile than merchandise itself.” (Jean Baudrillard quoted by Amada Cruz, “DOB in the Land of Otaku,” Takashi Murakami: The Meaning of the Nonsense of the Meaning, New York, 1999, p. 17.) For Baudrillard, Warhol was the artist who was most successful in this pursuit. In comparison to Warhol’s Skull, Untitled also uses printmaking techniques and the help of many assistants to achieve a seamless appearance reminiscent of machine-produced commercial goods, yet the present lot takes the process a step further with its exquisite craftsmanship. Months of printing silk screens (as many as one thousand different screens for a single work) and painstakingly detailed and precise painting executed by multiple tiers of assistants go into the making of one Murakami painting. Murakami says the buzz of activity in his studio is “more similar to what you might have found at Ruben’s workshop long ago.” (Takashi Murakami, Massimilliano Gioni, Qatar Museums Authority, and Al Riwaq (Doha, Qatar), Murakami: Ego, New York, 2012, p. 59.) The sense of motion and character in Murakami’s paintings are furthermore rooted in conventions of animation in contrast to the stillness of Warhol’s works which are derived from photographs. (Amada Cruz, “DOB in the Land of Otaku,” Takashi Murakami: The Meaning of the Nonsense of the Meaning, New York, 1999, p. 18.) Murakami’s long-term fascination with anime stems less from its high-tech illusionism and more from the old-fashioned sense it provides of watching drawings in motion. “To see drawings move is a totally different experience than looking at computer graphics,” says Murakami, a belief that underlines the artist’s unwavering dedication to the handmade. (Takashi Murakami quoted by Amada Cruz, “DOB in the Land of Otaku,” Takashi Murakami: The Meaning of the Nonsense of the Meaning, New York, 1999, p. 16.)

    Bubbling with bright red skulls and dotted with whimsical embellishments of blue, yellow, and pink details, the present lot dances between luxurious eye candy and a permeating sense of looming anxiety or impending doom. “An artist is a necromancer,” Murakami cryptically states. (Murakami quoted by Sarah Thornton, Seven Days in the Art World, London, 2009.) “An artist is someone who understands the border between this world and that one… or someone who makes an effort to know it.” What might appear as a collection of cartoon skulls rendered in a decorative style, becomes on closer examination a madly detailed meditation on Murakami’s grappling with his mortality. His incredibly arduous approach and perfectionist mentality is more akin to the work of Yayoi Kusama. A comparison of Untitled and Kusama’s Infinity Nets OPRT reveals a shared tendency towards self-obliteration through infinite repetition. Kusama painted dots and rings loop infinitely through space as Murakami’s colourful skulls seems to expand endlessly beyond the bounds of the canvas.

    Boldly challenging institutionally defined “contemporary art” with audacious bubbly works rooted in the visual language of contemporary Japanese popular culture, Murakami represents both the materialism and cultural status of the generation in which he grew up in. Murakami considers his work to be a mirror of the current Japanese reality in all its complexity. His influence on Japanese art, the international art world, and even the globalisation of Japan’s kawaii culture, is undeniably palpable and cannot truly be measured.

  • Artist Biography

    Takashi Murakami

    Japanese • 1962

    Takashi Murakami is best known for his contemporary combination of fine art and pop culture. He uses recognizable iconography like Mickey Mouse and cartoonish flowers and infuses it with Japanese culture. The result is a boldly colorful body of work that takes the shape of paintings, sculptures and animations.

    In the 1990s, Murakami founded the Superflat movement in an attempt to expose the "shallow emptiness of Japanese consumer culture." The artist plays on the familiar aesthetic of mangas, Japanese-language comics, to render works that appear democratic and accessible, all the while denouncing the universality and unspecificity of consumer goods. True to form, Murakami has done collaborations with numerous brands and celebrities including Kanye West, Louis Vuitton, Pharrell Williams and Google.

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Property from a Private Collector



signed and dated 'Takashi 2015' on the overlap
acrylic on canvas mounted on aluminium frame
141.4 x 120.2 cm. (55 5/8 x 47 3/8 in.)
Executed in 2015.

HK$4,500,000 - 8,500,000 

Sold for HK$5,860,000

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 25 November 2018