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Kaikai Kiki Gallery. Photo: Christian Øen, ©2017 Astrup Fearnley Museet

Murakami by Murakami or “exhibitions within the exhibition” at Oslo’s Astrup Fearnley Museet 0

Q&A with exhibition’s curator Therese Möllenhoff

Photos: Christian Øen, © 2017 Astrup Fearnley Museet

Takashi Murakami’s influence on Japanese contemporary art could be compared to the influence that Andy Warhol exerted in the USA. After his own fashion, he is a direct follower of Warhol’s school of ‘philosophy’, viewing the artist as the central figure of an art production unit (factory). As an art collector, a gallerist, entrepreneur and public activist, Murakami earned international acclaim with his monumental manga and animation-inspired works and his collaboration with the fashion brand Louis Vuitton. Through 14 May, his exhibition will be on view at Astrup Fearnley Museet, in Oslo. posed three questions to Therese Möllenhoff, one of the curators of the exhibition.

What new and unique aspects does this exhibition reveal about this figure, so well-known in the art world?

What characterizes the exhibition Murakami by Murakami is that it features not only the works of Takashi Murakami the Artist. The exhibition expands beyond his artistic production by also presenting aspects of his activities as a filmmaker, art collector, gallerist and cultural entrepreneur. In addition to the presentation of the visual artist through selections from two of his outstanding bodies of work, the exhibition includes two “exhibitions within the exhibition” that are curated by Murakami himself: one featuring works from The Murakami Superflat Collection and the other featuring contemporary Japanese artists from Kaikai Kiki Gallery.

Antiques room 

During the past ten years, Takashi Murakami has built up his private art collection with impressive dedication, and as of today, the collection comprises over 5000 works. Murakami’s collecting activities can be seen as an integral part of the artist’s creative universe and practice, which is why we were eager to include this display within the concept of our Murakami by Murakami exhibition. The collection’s way of juxtaposing everything from international contemporary art and historical Japanese art and ceramics to furniture and everyday objects, such as cartoon figures, mugs and dusting cloths, speaks to the artist’s consistent principle of breaking down artistic hierarchies and categories. For this exhibition Murakami has personally selected antique Japanese artworks, such as hanging scrolls and ceramics, from his own collection, the works ranging from the Heian period (794-1185) to the Muromachi period (1336-1573) and the Edo period (1603-1868). This selection of works from the artist’s collection serves to illuminate the history of Japanese art and aesthetics, and there is an interesting connection between these historical concepts of “art” vs “craft” objects and “high” vs “low”, to Murakami’s own contemporary attitude towards artistic creation.

Kaikai Kiki Gallery

In another part of the exhibition, Murakami has curated a room representing artists connected to his Kaikai Kiki Gallery. This display comprises works by thirteen contemporary Japanese artists. This gallery is a testimony to the way Murakami has used his influence to promote young or underrated Japanese artists and sought to transform the art market in Japan by expanding his own studio to encompass such varied activities as production and promotion of works by other artists, artist management and the operation of a gallery through the Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd company. As is typical for Murakami, the exhibited works range from contemporary fine art to lifestyle ceramics, and include pieces by the artists Chiho Aoshima, Chinatsu Ban, Kazunori Hamana, JNTHED, Mahomi Kunikata, MADSAKI, Mr., Kazumi Nakamura, ob, Atsushi Ogata, Otani Workshop, Aya Takano and Yuji Ueda.

Together with the presentation of the art of Murakami himself, these two “exhibitions within the exhibition” showcase the wide-ranging aspects of the artist’s practice and provide a compelling insight into the complex and fascinating Murakami universe.

In the center: Takashi Murakami. Flame of Desire – Gold (2013-2015)

Could you give us a few highlights of the oeuvre that can be seen in this exhibition?

The exhibition presents the visual artist Takashi Murakami through selections from two of his outstanding bodies of work. One comprises his early works, marked by references to popular culture like manga and anime, and the cultural “flattening” of Japanese culture, represented by his creation of the figure DOB and the concept of Superflat. The other part of the exhibition offers a selection of more recent works in which Murakami has developed a thoughtful personal dialogue with Japanese historical and religious paintings.

The section presenting the early works of Murakami features two of his infamous sculptures, the early, manga-inspired Hiropon (1997) and My Lonesome Cowboy (1998), as well as several works centred on his signature character Mr DOB. The exhibition traces the development and ever on-going metamorphosis of DOB from a flat, kawaii (cute) character exploring the world of consumption and Japanese popular culture into a more complex figure expressing larger thematic structures and theatrical emotions. The figure can be seen to accompany Murakami throughout the shift in his artistic practice from a focus on the world of consumption and popular culture towards deeper, more personal and spiritual themes. A highlight here is the work Tan Tan Bo a.k.a. Gerotan: Metempsychosis (2015) which places DOB in a world in a state of total meltdown.

The second part of the exhibition presents works from the past few years, where Murakami’s work has developed a dialogue with Japanese historical and religious paintings. Religious motifs acquired new relevance and meaning for the artist in 2011, when Japan was struck by one of its worst natural disasters in centuries: the earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear accident. As a result of this national crisis, he recognized the role of art and religion in the face of a disaster and turned to traditional Japanese Buddhist art for inspiration. In this part of the exhibition, we present works that showcase his exploration of motifs such as Daruma, the Arhats (the highlight being the 10-metre long work 69 Arhats Beneath the Bodhi Tree from 2013), as well as his Ensō circle paintings, which is a recent series of works that deserves a mention for the way the artist draws upon this Zen Buddhist tradition as a means of researching the essence of painting itself.

What is the physical layout for this exhibition?

The main hall of the museum, characterized by the massive, curved glass roof of Renzo Piano’s architecture, is dedicated to the recent works featuring Buddhist motifs: the large-scale paintings of Arhats, smaller Ensō paintings and a Daruma painting. On the wall that runs along the entire space, the wall is filled by a 30-metre long work that combines the 16-panel painting 727 - 272: <Emergence of God at the Reversal of Fate> (2006-2009) and the brand new 3-panel painting Forest Companions (2017). This richly detailed painting appears to be almost a mini-retrospective of Murakami’s artistic development, ranging from neo-pop, Superflat and manga-inspired characters to his recently renewed interest in traditional Japanese artistic models and Buddhist motifs. The main hall features a single monumental sculpture: the 5-metre tall Flame of Desire – Gold (2013-2015).

Takashi Murakami. Hiropon (1997) and My Lonesome Cowboy (1998)

On the upper level, the museum mezzanine presents the early works of Murakami: manga-inspired sculptures such as Hiropon (1997) and My Lonesome Cowboy (1998), and the development of the figure Mr DOB throughout a series of paintings. There is a dedicated room that presents Murakami’s work in animation, video and film, featuring such diverse work as music videos and his own animated TV series, in addition to the artist’s debut feature film Jellyfish Eyes (2013) that is screened every Thursday during the course of the exhibition. Finally, on the upper level, there are the two prominent “exhibitions within the exhibition” curated by Murakami himself: one featuring historic Japanese ceramics and scrolls from the artist’s own collection, and the other comprising selected works by thirteen contemporary Japanese artists who are connected to his Kaikai Kiki Gallery. Together, these elements of the Murakami by Murakami exhibition serve to illuminate how the artist, in his extensive activities ranging from artist to collector to gallerist and cultural entrepreneur, operates according to the principle of breaking down the borders, hierarchies and categories of all artistic creation.