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  • Provenance

    Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris

  • Exhibited

    Doha, Al Riwaq Exhibition Hall, Takashi Murakami: Ego at Al Riwaq Exhibition Hall, 9 February - 23 June 2012 (other example exhibited)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Takashi Murakami has transformed Japanese art for the twenty-first century. In a postmodern and global impulse, he coined an aesthetic he calls Superflat: ‘Murakami's attempt to reanimate a pre-Westernized, putatively indigenous, Japanese artistic perspective in forms that simultaneously accommodate a thoroughly Westernized popular culture.’ (Nina Cornyetz, ‘Murakami Takashi and the Hell of Others: Sexual (In)Difference, the Eye, and the Gaze in ©Murakami,' Criticism, Vol.54 No.2, Spring 2012, p.182). This involves a wryly recombinant eye, taking cues from the distinctive flat planes of anime and manga and, in a concept in accordance with his visuals, ‘flattening’ the boundaries between low and high culture. He reconstitutes his art as merchandise – the gift shop at a 2009 Tate Modern exhibition sold miniature versions of key works packaged with chewing gum – and also incorporates imagery from his commercial work back into paintings and sculptures. The huge success of his designs with Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton and his album art for Kanye West’s Graduation have elevated him to celebrity status, cementing his position in popular culture, yet he remains a puckish and somewhat enigmatic figure; he is no diffident ambassador for Japan, but a razor-sharp alchemist of art and commerce.

    It is tempting to draw comparisons to Warhol. There are clear parallels in the artists’ narratives of serialisation and their blurring of lines between ‘high art’ and mass-produced imagery; Murakami even employs a team of assistants in Kaikai Kiki, a ‘factory’ rather like Warhol’s. Yet to trace a clear lineage here is to ignore the distinctive Japanese quality of Murakami’s project. As Massimiliano Gioni writes, ‘If Warhol’s factory was a perverse, hypertrophic emulation of assembly-line systems, Kaikai Kiki is a demented replica of a multinational corporation.’ (Massimiliano Gioni, ‘Takashi Murakami: Ego Mix,' Murakami - Ego, New York: Skira Rizzoli, 2012, p.117). The atelier structure of Murakami’s production has as much in common with the anime workshops of Studio Ghibli as it does with the Factory. And as Murakami himself notes, ‘I’m very sad to be compared with Warhol and the Factory, because I have no drugs, you know. We have no drug culture in Japan! Maybe it’s because our attitude toward labour is totally different.’ (Takashi Murakami in conversation with Alison Gingeras, Interview Magazine, 8 September 2010). Incorporating a wide range of operations, Kaikai Kiki does much work to support emerging young Japanese artists, and since 2002 has managed GEISAI, an art fair in which artists interact directly with potential buyers. In Japan, Murakami claims, people ‘are surprised by the rigid and pretentious Western hierarchy of “high art.” 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 in conversation with Magdalene Perez, ARTINFO, 17 May 2007).

    Pom and Me is a shining example of Murakami’s sculpture. From a line created in gold, silver, bronze and painted fibreglass, the sculpture recalls the chromed quality of Jeff Koons’ balloon dogs, but presents an altogether more lively pair of figures; Murakami himself stands in declamatory pose alongside his canine companion. The artist’s dog – with whom he shares the popular Instagram feed @takashipom – is, appropriately, of rare indigenous Japanese breed. He acquired her with three other puppies from a hotel in Yoronjima, and when he took her home the vet hold him ‘that almost 90 percent of dogs in Japan come from the West. So she is like an original. The vet was excited and was asking about where she came from. He wanted to meet the breeder.’ (Takashi Murakami in conversation with Alison Gingeras, Interview Magazine, 8 September 2010). Murakami and his team are working on breeding Pom’s line, and he also rears cacti, lotus flowers, insects and small fish: an apt biocultural expression of his inquest into Japanese identity and mutability.

    The artist depicts his own figure in a style inspired by chibi or ‘super-deformed’ character drawing, an exaggeratedly cute mode born of anime and manga. A similarly kawaii creature on his t-shirt reproduces his pose, enacting the influence of this visual trope on Murakami’s aesthetic. The man and his dog make a shiny and appealing duo – eminently collectable trophies in their gold, silver and bronze iterations – but are underpinned by a considered range of art-historical influences; Murakami studied classical art and has a doctorate in traditional Japanese painting. He has commented that ‘In the art world, critics always connect entertainment with guilt, amusement with superficiality. I think my work is the answer to that criticism. Which doesn’t mean that I make work only to amuse. Taking architecture as an analogy, you could say that my paintings are like buildings: on the surface, they appear very light and flimsy, but they’re actually made of very solid materials underneath. The depth is visual.’ (Takashi Murakami, Murakami - Ego, New York: Skira Rizzoli, 2012, p.256).

    Here, apart from otaku culture – the complex of anime and manga obsession which has informed much of Murakami’s most famous work, such as the record-breaking My Lonesome Cowboy (1998) – the gilt figures recall the gold-leaf backdrops of 19th Century Nihonga artworks, planar images which were themselves a post-industrial refashioning of the traditional Japanese ‘floating world’ woodblock style. A more obvious referent is the common gold statuary of Buddha; Buddhist imagery has long pervaded Murakami’s oeuvre, notably as a response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Imbuing surface with great depth, Pom and Murakami stand as proud and gleaming mascots. Murakami’s bold levelling of hierarchies – old and new, cartoonish and religious, Eastern and Western – is reified in triumphal Superflat 3D.

  • Artist Biography

    Takashi Murakami

    Japanese • 1962

    Best known for his contemporary combination of fine art and pop culture, Takashi Murakami is one of the most acclaimed postwar Asian artists. Born in 1962, Murakami studied at Tokyo University of the Arts to train as an animator, but ultimately specialized and earned a Ph.D. in Nihonga, the academic style of traditional Japanese painting. Employing a bold graphic style infused with Japanese culture that has become widely recognizable, Murakami rose to fame in the 1990s for coining the term “Superflat.” Relating the flattened space of Japanese graphic art to the conflation of art and commerce in consumer culture, his Superflat theory bore into the eponymous postmodern art movement that has inspired an entire generation of contemporary Japanese artists. Creating supercharged, cartoon-like paintings and sculptures, the artist plays on the familiar aesthetic of anime and manga, rendering works that shatter the visual dichotomies between high and low art. Since 2002, Murakami has done numerous collaborations with various brands and celebrities including Louis Vuitton, Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, and Google.

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Pom and Me

gold leaf on aluminium, glass, chromed metal, with steel armature and Corian plinth
128.5 x 107.1 x 90.1 cm (50 5/8 x 42 1/8 x 35 1/2 in.)

£400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for £482,500

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
[email protected]
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Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London 29 June 2015 7pm