Takashi Murakami - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, June 23, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Executed in 2013, Takashi Murakami’s Red Demon and Blue Demon with 48 Arhats showcases the striking graphic style that has cemented the artist’s status as one of the most prominent figures in fine art and pop culture alike. Exhibiting Murakami’s studied fusion of cultural influences in remarkable detail, Red Demon and Blue Demon with 48 Arhats fuses Buddhist divinity, Edo period printmaking, and contemporary kawaii culture to create a monumental artistic accomplishment on an audacious scale. The present work featured in the artist’s major exhibition, Murakami by Murakami, at the Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo, in 2017.


    Takashi Murakami photographed with The 500 Arhats. Photograph by Chika Okazumi, Artwork: © Takashi Murakami 

    Following the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake in Japan and the resulting Fukushima nuclear disaster, Murakami’s animated embrace of Japanese culture took a strikingly inward and esoteric turn. Doubling down on the cultural associations of his work following the cataclysmic event, Murakami began incorporating more pronounced Buddhist imagery into his compositions. As the artist elucidated on the impact of the catastrophe on his work, “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.”i Here, Murakami set two epically scaled supernatural beings in confrontation of his viewer across five chromatic panels, rendered in a graphic style that belies the artist’s penchant for graffiti and pop culture precedents, including the stylized Ben-day dots recalling Roy Lichtenstein’s radical appropriations. Standing in their wake are the 48 arharts, disciples of Buddha who have attained insight into the true nature of existence and are trusted with spreading the teachings of Buddhism as a nomadic spiritual guide. Murakami first incorporated these benevolent travelling healers in his monumental work The 500 Arhats, completed following the disaster in 2012. Since then, arhats have factored prominently into Murakami’s work. 



    Coupled with the two large demons—themselves figures borrowed from Japanese mythology, liminal creatures generally indifferent to mankind but who could be protective or destructive according to the intentions and nature of those approaching—who forcefully occupy the center of the composition, the arhats represent Murakami’s interest in sharing this culture with an international audience. Furthering the present work's connection with the traditional highly stylized Japanese iconography is his fusion of his superflat graphic style with traditional media such as gold leaf, highlighting the cultural depth of Murakami’s work and fusing traditional figures with contemporary relevance.


    Kano Kazunobu, The Six Realms: Hell, Five Hundred Arhats, circa 1854–63 (detail). Collection Zōjōji

    Murakami’s work has garnered considerable international acclaim not least for its immediately recognizable aesthetic. Joining influences from traditional Japanese painting, sci-fi, anime, and the international artistic vanguard, Murakami has forged a lively style that unites elements of Eastern and Western artmaking. A lifelong a fan of anime and manga, Murakami attended the Tokyo University of the Arts to acquire the drafting skills necessary to become an animator, but eventually shifted his studies to Nihonga, an academic style of painting incorporating traditional Japanese conventions, techniques, and subjects. Eventually becoming discontented with the insular world of academia, Murakami again pivoted and began creating art that slyly lamented the ubiquity of Western influences in the Japanese avant-garde of the time. Seeking artistic individuation in an otherwise uniform environment, Murakami pioneered an internationally recognized style that is uniquely and gleefully rooted in Japanese culture. The result is a body of work that is equally influenced by the academic art he studied in Tokyo and the pop culture he enjoyed as a child. Indeed, Red Demon and Blue Demon with 48 Arhats exhibits Murakami’s unrelenting engagement with the historical culture of his homeland. 



    The unifying factor of Murakami’s conceptual program is the Superflat aesthetic, the hyper-compressed, nearly depthless, yet massively intricate surfaces he renders. Superflat is a fusion of traditional approaches to artmaking and the capabilities of contemporary technique; influenced by the simplified compositions of Edo printmaking and aided by digital technology, Murakami flattens the surface of his works, condenses space, and packs the surface of the work with myriad layers of complex detail using advanced silk-screening processes. The result is his trademark all-over style, often actualized, as in Red Demon and Blue Demon with 48 Arhats, on a grandiose scale. In addition to its connection to historical Japanese artmaking, this aesthetic is predicated on the disavowal of the Western distinctions between high and low art, which do not exist within the “horizontally organized nature of Japanese culture.”ii Rendering historical and religious subjects in a highly stylized pop style, Red Demon and Blue Demon with 48 Arhats flattens the artificial hierarchies of taste and equates its constituent sources in traditional and contemporary imagery. 

    i Takashi Murakami, trans. Yuko Burtless, quoted in Ann Binlot, “In a New Show, Takashi Murakami Visits the Dark Side,” The New York Times Style Magazine, November 10, 2014.
    ii Dick Hebdige, “Flat Boy vs. Skinny: Takashi Murakami and the Battle of for ‘Japan,’” ©Murakami, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2008, p. 22.

    • Provenance

      Blum & Poe, Los Angeles
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2014

    • Exhibited

      Los Angeles, Blum & Poe, Arhat, April 13 - May 25, 2013
      Milan, Palazzo Reale, Arhat Cycle, July 24 - September 7, 2014
      Oslo, Astrup Fearnley Museum, Murakami by Murakami, February 10 - May 14, 2017, p. 134 (illustrated, pp. 80-81; detail illustrated on the frontispiece)

    • Literature

      Erica Bellman, "Takashi Murakami Transcends," Interviewmagazine, April 15, 2013, online (illustrated)
      Catherine Wagley, "Now Showing: Takashi Murakami," T Magazine, April 18, 2013, online (illustrated)
      Yomi Adegoke, "Takashi Murakami," XXY Magazine, May 2, 2013
      Kavita Daswani, "Artist Plays Mind Games with Viewers," South China Morning Post, May 5, 2013, online (illustrated)
      Stella Succi, "Takashi Murakami 'Arhat Cycle' at Palazzo Reale, Milan," Mousse Magazine, July 31, 2014 (installation view, Palazzo Reale, Milan, 2014, illustrated)

    • 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


Red Demon and Blue Demon with 48 Arhats

signed and dated "TAKASHI 2013" on the overlap of the left panel
acrylic, gold and platinum leaf on canvas mounted on board, in 5 parts
118 1/8 x 196 7/8 in. (300 x 500.1 cm)
Executed in 2013.

Full Cataloguing

$3,500,000 - 4,500,000 

Sold for $6,080,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Auctions
New York
+1 212 940 1278


20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 23 June 2021