Japanese artist Takeshi Murakami, PhD, is often called the Andy Warhol of Japan. He paints Japanese cultural objects and icons repetitiously and markets them on all sorts of products including keychains, telephone covers, mouse pads, t-shrts and Louis Vuitton handbags, to name a few, the way Warhol did in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Hip-hop heads may know Murakami because of his work with rapper and producer Pharrell Williams and may recognize him because he created Kanye West’s “Graduation” album cover as well as the gold-plated bear above.
All of Murakami’s work comes from a frustration with the position of Japanese art within the global art market and the canon of art history as written by Western standards. Which is to say that, in Murakami’s opinion, the West thinks very little of Japanese art. Perhaps this is why he went beyond the prerequisite of a Masters in Art education and earned a PhD. Hip-hop, when it was invented 30 years ago, underwent the same frustrations and was considered a low form of art. Today, it has taken over the world in one form or another, but especially in language. Artists like Kanye and Pharrell recognized this and see a comrade in Murakami.
Murakami earned his doctorate at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music and invented a style called “Superflat” characterized by flat planes of color and graphic images involving a character style derived from anime and manga. Superflat is also an artistic style that comments on the otaku lifestyle and subculture, as well as consumerism and sexual fetishism. So, everything from subcultural objects and icons from anime are taken from obscurity and are inflated to ridiculous heights. The apex of this elevation may be seen in the sculptures exhibited at France’s Palais Versaille last September, the frenzy created after his images were stamped on Louis Vuitton luggage and handbags, and the sale of, at auction, one of his masturbating, saucer-eyed anime sculptures at Sotheby’s for $15 million.