Takashi Murakami - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Saturday, November 23, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Gagosian, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Takashi Murakami and Andy Warhol’s names are often conflated in contemporary art historical discourse as a means to thematically link the oeuvres of the two artistic powerhouses, born some three decades apart. Much like his Western predecessor, Murakami’s artwork has sought to scrutinise the interrelationship between art and commerce, paving a plane for both high and low art to co-exist. And yet, the “Japanese Warhol” exists far beyond this ascribed moniker—Murakami’s art is one which fuses varying strands of dichotomous influences: traditional nihonga Japanese painting versus contemporary Japanese painting; nihonga vis-à-vis Western media; as well as pre and post war Japanese culture, lexicon, and visual prompts. It is against this rich backdrop of cultural, historical, and commercial influences that Murakami has created his inimitable rubric of Superflat, an elaborate theory which forms the crucial lens through which one must read his art. An essence of all that is Murakami, Mr. DOB is the epitome of the artist—at once a mascot, a self-portrait, and an alter ego, Mr. DOB was Murakami’s first signature creation in the early 1990s, and has remained the single most recognisable figure in his entire body of work. In the present work, Mr. DOB has been rendered in a brilliant white, set against a metallic platinum leaf background. Mr. DOB simultaneously amalgamates the binaries of high and low art: the reverence usually reserved for Japanese and Western precious metal paintings or icons of deities (see for example the Christ Pantocrator mosaic from the dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem) is juxtaposed against the cartoonish, grinning features of Mr. DOB.

    Recalling a huge variety of cartoon figures spanning Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse, Sonic the Hedgehog, Pyonkichi (from Dokonjo Gaeru [Gutsy Frog]), Doraemon—and much more, Mr. DOB captured the artist’s wish to create a Japanese cartoon icon as immediately recognisable as Hello Kitty, Pikachu, and Disney’s signature mouse. Reflecting on his creation nearly a decade later, Murakami stated: "I set out to investigate the secret of market survivability - the universality of characters such as Mickey Mouse, Sonic the Hedgehog, Doraemon, Miffy, Hello Kitty…” (Murakami quoted in Jeff Howe, “The Two Faces of Takashi Murakami”, Wired, 2003, online). The character’s name is a contraction of various Japanese sub-culture references. Combining the Romanisation of comedian Yuri Toru’s catchphrase “oshamanbe”, with “Dobojite Dobojite” (Why? Why?) — a deliberate mispronunciation of “doshite” (why) uttered by characters in the 1970s manga cartoon Inakappe Taishō (The Country General) — Mr. DOB is a deliberate affront to logic and sense itself. This very nonsensical nature is literally blazoned upon and makes up Mr. DOB’s physiognomy: as we can see in the present work, the “D” and “B” make up his left and right ears, and the “O” his smiling face.

    But in true Murakami form, the deceptively simple or even blasé often necessitates a much more cerebral analysis. In essence, though “DOB” has no meaning, it harks back to Murakami’s doctoral thesis, the titular investigation of which can be seen as a precursor to even Superflat itself: “Imi no muimi no imi” (“Meaning of the Meaningless of Meaning”.) This thesis title breathed life into the artist’s practice that has been highlighted by a unique blend of nihilism and cynicism when inspecting his native culture. This essentially “meaningless meaning” was captured in one critic’s summary of Mr. DOB: “He faces the world with a question continually on his lips: ‘Why is this important? Why is this meaningful? Why is this good? Why is this read? Why is this art?’” (quoted from Takashi Murakami: summon monsters? open the door? heal? or die?, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, 2001, p.62) Indeed, the “why?” that represents Mr. DOB encapsulates Murakami’s desire for the viewer to continually challenge contemporary society’s conventions.

    Furthermore, Mr. DOB can also be seen as a literal physicalisation of Murakami’s singular enquiry into the co-dependence between consumerist culture and art itself, mixed in with a distinctive hint of post-war Japanese culture. In 1991, Murakami’s debut show Takashi, Tamiya — a title which referenced the famous Japanese toymaker Tamiya Inc.—showcased a series entitled Signboard TAMIYA, in which aspects of the American flag, the Tamiya Inc. company logo, and American soldier figurines were all intertwined to create boards where the outlines of soldiers were somewhat burned into the stars above the toy logo. Rife with meaning, these works can be considered a post-war investigation into the identity of Japan following post-American-occupation, and the otaku (loosely simplified as “geeky”) culture that sprung forth following—a generation revolving around toys, anime, and manga. Murakami maintains that in the wake of a World War II defeat and postwar occupation, Japan turned to otaku culture as a means of grappling with tough subjects, preferring childlike, animated figures and forms which were free of historical meaning. Out of this setting, famous Japanese cartoons emerged, giving way to a huge production of toys, comic books, and various other paraphernalia. Mr. DOB, with its simple and easily replicable form, can therefore be seen not only as a figurehead that evokes the likes of American pop art icons such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, but also as a symbol of the mass avalanche of Japanese cartoons and playthings which flooded post-war Japan.

    When taken alongside this context, we see many strands coalesce in the present works. Mr. DOB is a hybrid emblem that unites many dualities: East and West, pre and post-war Japan, high and low art, consumerist culture and high art forms. Forever ageless, Mr. DOB is the paragon of Takashi Murakami’s oeuvre that successfully captures the archetypal “Murakami effect” of a decentralised view of art history. It is thus no wonder that Mr. DOB has become a lasting symbol of the artist’s erudite sensibilities. Featured in the MoMA’s own collection, but also the artist’s 2003 collaboration with Louis Vuitton, Kanye West’s 2008 music video “Good Morning”, and the more recent collaboration with Virgil Abloh, “Future History”, Mr. DOB is here to stay in contemporary discourse, and will remain the pinnacle of the artist’s career and the very definition of Murakami himself.

  • 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.

    View More Works

Property from an Important Asian Collection


And Then x 6 (Platinum & White: The Superflat Method)

signed and dated 'TAKASHI 2012' on the overlap
acrylic and platinum leaf on canvas mounted on board
100 x 100 cm. (39 3/8 x 39 3/8 in.)
Executed in 2012.

HK$3,800,000 - 5,000,000 

Sold for HK$4,950,000

Contact Specialist
Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 24 November 2019