Brooklyn Museum: Takashi Murakami’s Superflat Exhibit

I saw some of his sculptures a couple of years ago displayed in Rockefeller Center and really found them fun and entertaining. So when I saw he was going to have a full exhibit here, well I was excited. The Brooklyn Museum is one of my favorite museums anyway. The Murakami show goes through July 13 and it has a set price of $10.00 to get in.

I had heard somewhat of Takashi Murakami through his involvement with the superflat movement. Other than that he was sort of just a name that people threw around to me. Since Anime World Order mentions superflat every once in a while and it is mentioned in Internet discussions about anime and manga, I decided I might as well go as well and see what it was all about.

I would describe the superflat aesthetic with a few broad ideas. You usually see a lot of flat color, and bright color, along with little shadowing. You also often get a very definite line or hard edge. And of course superflat is influenced by cartoons and comics, especially calling upon the looks of anime and otaku culture.

Murakami is credited with creating this art movement. But it is not just the look that is creating. He challenges, just as many artist before him, the ideas of what fine art is. He tries to blur the line between commercial art and fine art. Murakami paints on large canvases, sculpts out of fiberglass but then turns around and designs bags for Louis Vuitton and gashapon figures.

He also uses fine art concepts in products that he sells as commercial art and visa versa. He sells and merchandises what would easily be considered high concept art pieces while giving all his commercial good distinct elements you would normally find in fine art pieces.

The exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum is really amazing and quite large. Everything from the carpet in the viewing room to the walls of the next are designed by him to lead you through his artwork and immerse the viewer in it. You are greeted with a fiberglass sculpture of a magical girl with the proverbial short skirt, long legs, and large chest (though not as large as a girl you see later on). You can then make your way through the rest of the exhibit of enter the viewing room which boasts bright characters on the wall before entering and a pile of poop on the ceiling.

He does have two very different styles of art in his collection. His 3-D models seem to reflect the cheesecake anime style where as his other pieces seem to echo the super cute mascot style ala Hello Kitty. He clearly has a grasp of the extremes in the otaku market. I’m not sure if it is because he has a fondness of otaku culture and blends it into his art or if it is meant to be satire and spark a critical analysis of otaku culture. Perhaps it is even both.

We watched all the videos he directed on display, one of which was a music video for Kanye West. I am not familiar with his music or his videos though he did do that one with Daft Punk that had lots of Akira influences. But with this is was a combinations of cute mixed with a steady rap beat, the contrast made it worth watching. Then we saw two episodes of Kaikai and Kiki which were very child-like and humorous. And then there was this odd preview of a live-action film where we basically watched a girl wash her hair which, as you might imagine, was insanely boring.

I found the Kaikai and Kiki episodes mostly child-like and humorous but one part of the second episode threw me for a loop. Most of the humor revolved around poop and fart jokes which are the staples of Japanese children humor mixed in with general story plots of a children’s anime. Then out of no where Kaikai has a flashback to how his mentor sacrificed himself during the great space war to save his life. That was extremely non sequitur. The live-action film was called Dharma and it is about a hit-man who encounters a man who looks exactly like him. The odd thing is they give you two screens of text describing this assassin and then the next five minutes we get two very brief flashes of a man who might be the assassin mixed in with the daily routine of some unmentioned girl. I did not get it but I guess that is why I was never a film major.

As we continued our journey we ran into a number of interesting pieces including a three-sequence sculpture of a girl transforming into a jet; a girl with enormous breasts shooting milk in deadly sharp spurts; and a guy who looked like he went super saiyan before ejaculating. All of his human-like sculptures have an element of sex to them, which is not really seen with most of his other work. It was hilarious to watch parents rushing their children by these works.

In contrast, I feel that all his non-human work seems to have an element of mortality to it. The mushrooms having the atomic bomb imagery tied to them and pieces like the one pictured above often having imagery of death and dying somewhere in them.

Some of my favorite pieces were his large, wall sized paintings done with acrylics and then sandblasted to create a great texture. They were mostly of his signature character DOB. These pieces had the most fine art like presence. It made them especially stand out when the opposite wall displayed something much more two-dimensional like the mushrooms or jellyfish eyes. His multi-panel mushroom painting was especially great to get close to and see all the tiny details. On display next to this were two process pieces to show you how he gets from concept to finish work.

I think my favorite pieces in the collection were the portraits of Bodhidharma with the titles that were Zen Koans. I felt their otherworldly nature reflected well on the subject. And the mixture of digital techniques to make classic style portraits was quite clever. Plus I think that I have an odd fondness for Zen Buddhism is general. I also thought that the little videos of the not quite human looking robot boy, Inochi, were rather amusing.

I also enjoyed seeing displays of the merchandise he has created, everything from notebooks to cell phone straps and beyond. You could even buy his Louis Vuitton bags in the middle of the exhibit if you were so inclined. There was also plenty of stuff to buy at the end, I picked up a couple of postcards (as I normally do when going to the museum) and a dinosaur plush key chain.

Well, since I accidentally left my wallet brimming with hundred dollar bills at home I decided to skip on picking up one of the Louis Vuitton bags. There was a good amount of Takashi Murakami merchandise as well as several books on superflat in general. And there were also several books by Patrick Macias and the ubiquitous How to Draw Manga books. For some reason I found the How to Draw Manga books quite amusing.

Narutaki Currently!
Watching Sexy Voice and Robo
Reading D.Gray Man
Listening to AAA

Hisui (Brainwasher Detective) Currently:
Watching Allison and Lilia
Reading Sexy Voice and Robo
Listening to a special version of Makka Na Chikai by Yoshiki Fukuyama