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  • “Japanese people of my generation grew up reading manga and watching anime and special effect films, so these things are thickly in our flesh and blood. We can’t help expressing them… In any case, the important thing in art is how you express your reality; it’s crucial to accurately depict the influences you have received in life through various methods and grammars of art.” 
    — Takashi Murakami

     With works teeming with smiling sunflowers, manga characters, and fashion icons, Japanese superstar artist Takashi Murakami’s ubiquity in our contemporary society is undeniable. Stemming from a wider series of pieces reflecting his own cultural roots, Murakami’s Sage is steeped in symbols, and features a glimmering composition of psychedelic hues intermixed with acrylic, gold, and platinum leaf. First shown in a 2015 exhibition presented by Blum & Poe in Ibiza, the work exemplifies Murakami’s drastic change in style and subject in the early 2010s, having shifted from an aesthetically driven, superflat practice towards a more esoteric, reflective artistic expression.




    The present work exhibited at Ibiza Gran Hotel
    Presented by Blum & Poe, Takashi Murakami, 24 June – 26 September 2015


    Interweaving Religious and Manga Imageries 


    Sage presents a visual feast: sitting cross-legged against a glistening sea of polka dots, the titular magical, six-eyed humanoid hovers between a mystical tree and a globe of skulls, outlined in a style reminiscent of Japanese manga. Above him floats six equally mystical figures, all rendered in a similarly animated visual language; as the ensemble immediately calls to mind the unnaturally large, supernatural creatures in Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki’s film Spirited Away (2001), alluding to a possible manga-inspired theme.


    However, contrary to one’s presumptions, the work’s title suggests that this figure is a sage, a sacred character in Japanese folklore whose wisdom transcends humanity. Drawing inspiration from Eastern religious iconography, the depicted sage is dressed in traditional garb, in a seated posture, with a cosmos-hued circle behind his body suggesting a sacred halo that is common in Buddhist imageries. Lined up around the ring of the halo are nine smaller figures, who may in fact be arhats, the enlightened disciples of Buddha. The composition of Sage amalgamates various sources: it could point to the seven stages of the Buddha, another central theme within Buddhist iconology. An alternative reading perhaps points to the enlightenment of the Buddha under the Bodhi Tree just as the Demon King Mara sends forth an army to distract him, oft-depicted in Buddhist symbology. Considering however the figure’s cross-legged nature (the agura sitting term considered informal in the company of superiors as opposed to seiza, the proper sitting position), a certain superiority may be assumed within the present piece, firmly confirming the seniority of the mysterious sage. Eschewing linier perspectives, the composition speaks for an Asian aesthetic. 





    Yet upon closer inspection, an apple tree growing out of the sage’s head may call into question the work’s orientalism, albeit the Eastern aesthetics and subject matter. Closely associated with Western Catholicism, the apple tree appears throughout the history of European religious paintings as a symbol of knowledge, immortality, and temptation. Here, the inclusion of the tree coincides with the symbolic meaning of the sage, both implying divinity and intellectualism, thus forming a multilayered image of various signs.


    By embracing overlapping cultural symbols in Sage, Murakami is ushering in a globalised view of all the interwoven cultural complexities of our contemporary world.




    Left: School of Katsushika Hokusai, Sage, 18th–19th century
    Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
    Right: Lucas Cranach the Elder, Adam and Eve, 1526
    Collection of the Courtauld Institute of Art, London


    Confronting a Disturbing World 


    From the year 2011 onwards, Murakami’s practice has seen a drastic shift from a brighter style comprising smiling sunflowers and kawaii anime characters towards more solemn subject matters of skulls, distorted figures, and religious icons. This introspective change in style and subject marks Murakami’s response to the heart-breaking 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami and the ensuing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.


    Executed in 2014, Sage is related to Murakami’s celebrated Arhats series. A motif Murakami relentlessly incorporated in his post-2011 works, an arhat refers to a Buddhist figure who spread Buddha’s teachings to save humanity from its dangerous desires. It is used by Murakami to illustrate the wish to recover from the painful aftermath of the 2011 tragedies:


    “I used to think of religion as something kind of false and hypocritical, but after the earthquake disaster, I realized in a time like that, religion and fairy tales and things like that are actually a necessity.” 
    — Takashi Murakami


    Included in both Sage and Arhats series are magical human figures, whose uncannily distorted bodies evoke the monstrous mutation of living beings resulting from nuclear exposure. Creating a symbolic space for viewers to confront a disturbing world in which horror and hope are intermingled, Murakami’s works express a deeply humane and honest compassion. Considering that the present work’s original presentation was alongside pieces such as a colossal Oval Buddha measuring over eighteen feet tall, it is clear that the artist intended for in-depth meditation and rumination over humanity’s plight.




    Installation view of The 500 Arhats at Takashi Murakami: The 500 Arhats, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, 2015


    Takashi Murakami in Conversation


    In 2012 Hans Ulrich Obrist interviewed the artist in tandem with his exhibition Takashi Murakami: Flowers & Skulls, which took place at Gagosian Gallery, Hong Kong


    Hans Ulrich Obrist Could you tell me about the 100-meter painting that you presented in Murakami-Ego as a response to the Tōhoku earthquake?


    Takashi Murakami After the disasters in 2011, I experienced an incredible sense of helplessness. I had no idea what I could do as an artist, and felt that the theories I had been building so far didn’t fit with the post-disaster reality. It was the kind of moment that lies at the origin point of most of the world’s religions. In other words, when we are faced with suffering that we can’t make sense of with the help of the human theories or tools at our disposal, we start to look to things like religion for a sense of healing. But there are also examples of art being used as a platform in these times of crisis, such as with Picasso’s Guernica [1937], and I realized that in Japanese history the three factors—art, religion, and disaster—have always been intertwined. Around that time, I happened to be working with a Japanese art historian on a collaborative serialized column in a Japanese art magazine. The project entailed that for each issue, he would suggest a historical theme and I would make a work in response. The theme he suggested after the disasters was the motif of “arhat.” Specifically, he wrote an essay on Kano Kazunobu’s Five Hundred Arhats [1854–63]. When I saw this, I realized that I had found the platform I was looking for and presented my contemporary version in Doha.



    Read the rest of the interview here



    Collector’s Digest


    Rising to fame in the 1990s, Takashi Murakami is known for intermingling fine art and pop-culture imageries in his practice spanning paintings, sculptures, installation, and textiles, among many others. His recent large-scale retrospectives were held at Tai Kwun Contemporary, Hong Kong (1 June – 1 September 2019), Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow (29 September 2017 – 4 February 2018), Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (6 June – 24 September 2017), and Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (31 October 2015 – 6 March 2016). Since 2002, Murakami has collaborated with various brands and celebrities including Louis Vuitton, Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, and G-Dragon. His works are included in major museum collections globally.

    • Condition Report

    • Description

      View our Conditions of Sale.

    • Provenance

      Blum & Poe, Los Angeles
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Ibiza Gran Hotel presented by Blum & Poe, Takashi Murakami, 24 June - 26 September 2015

    • 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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signed and dated 'Takashi 2014' on the reverse
acrylic, gold leaf and platinum leaf on canvas mounted on wood panel
diameter 200 cm. (78 3/4 in.)
Executed in 2014.

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HK$7,500,000 - 9,500,000 

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 30 November 2021