Takashi Murakami - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, October 2, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Takashi Murakami, 'Spiral', Lot 20

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 2 October 2019

  • Provenance

    Galerie Perrotin, Paris
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2014

  • Catalogue Essay

    Conflating Pop culture, history and fine art, Takashi Murakami’s bright and boisterous Spiral, 2014, is an exceptional example from the artist’s now instantly-recognisable visual syntax. An emblem of his tendency to invigorate, saturate and accumulate, Spiral encapsulates the core visual tenets of the Superflat movement to which the artist adheres, attending to a perspective of space that likens the canvas’s surface to a computer screen. In the present work, myriad large balloon-like figures emerge on a single, compressed plane. With their comically inflated bodies floating across the platinum canvas, they embody the movement’s key concept of pictorial density, together defying the classical technique of ‘one-point’ perspective. All endowed with the letters D and B on their rounded ears, these ebullient creatures represent multiple iterations of one of Murakami’s earliest cartoon creations: the whimsically named Mr. DOB. For the artist, Mr. DOB is a perpetually shifting symbol of constructed brand narratives – at once reminiscent of Disney’s Mickey Mouse, Sonic the Hedgehog, Hello Kitty and the Russian character Cheburashka. He has described the figure – who has taken on many different guises, from kawaii to malevolent – as his very own alter-ego, as well as the inspired embodiment of an existential interrogation, ‘DOB’ standing for the contraction of the Japanese slang expression ‘dobojite’, or ‘why?’.

    Psychedelic, fantastical and sharp-toothed, Mr. DOB was doubtlessly inspired by the anime and manga characters that achieved cult status amongst Japanese youth in the 1990s. Musing on the importance of the icon, Murakami declared that ‘…it felt like I had succeeded…Once a character is born and begins to move, I think one has to follow its demands. If you let it be, it will take care of itself…Now I have a face that can transform at will’ (Takashi Murakami, quoted in Murakami: Ego, exh. cat., Al Riwaq, Doha, 2012, p. 18). Expertly mixing high and low art, Murakami has employed Mr. DOB throughout his career to examine the complexities of Japan’s cultural history. In 727, painted in 1996 and now residing in New York in the Museum of Modern Art’s collection, Mr. DOB rides a wave that is visually evocative of Hokusai’s infamous woodblock prints, created in the first half of the 19th century. Eluding this art historical context, Spiral instead focuses on its depicted characters, presenting them as literally ‘spiralling’ out of control and bursting out from the picture plane. More menacing than adorable, the bear-like Mr. DOBs appear crazed in a psychedelic flurry of shapes and colours, mutating 727’s tranquil waves into twisting tongues.

    Yet Murakami’s imaginative figures are not exclusively redolent of protagonists from the canon of Japanese art. In his appropriation of familiar figures within cartoon and anime culture, Murakami ingeniously invokes the legacy of American Pop art, extending the trajectory of artists such as Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jeff Koons into the digital era. However, veering away from the industrial production methods employed by Warhol and Koons in their work, Murakami instead navigates towards handcrafted meticulousness and precision. The quality of line and the brilliance of colour in Spiral – produced with glistening acrylic against a skull-embossed platinum surface – imbues this work with a seductive slickness. This appearance, similar to Warhol’s immaculate silkscreens, could be said to mirror the global consumer’s appetite for perfection in contemporary culture, a subject that Murakami frequently addressed throughout his career. ‘In the art world, critics always connect entertainment with guilt, amusement with superficiality’, he remarked. ‘I think my work is the answer to that criticism. Which doesn’t mean that I make work only to amuse… 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, quoted in Murakami: Ego, exh. cat., Al Riwaq, Doha, 2012, p. 256).

  • 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 a Distinguished Los Angeles Collection

Ο ◆20


signed and dated 'TAKASHI 2014' on the overlap
acrylic and platinum leaf on canvas
150.6 x 150.3 cm (59 1/4 x 59 1/8 in.)
Executed in 2014.

£400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for £495,000

Contact Specialist

Olivia Thornton
Senior Director
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099


Rosanna Widén
Director, Senior Specialist
+44 20 7318 4060

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 2 October 2019