Archive for January 17, 2008

Murakami at MOCA: Subversive or Commercial?

I finally got a chance to visit the Takashi Murakami pop art exhibit at MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) in Los Angeles. This was no ordinary museum visit full of staid paintings; installations ranged from statues of risqué anime figures representing the absurdness of otaku culture to large, colorful mushrooms with hundreds of eyes. There were also enormous balloons, eerily mesmerizing wallpaper, wall-sized acrylic paintings and a Louis Vuitton store on the second floor of the warehouse! (Murakami designed the company’s logo and asked to keep the rights to it. For half a million dollars, wealthier patrons of the arts can leave the show with a suitcase full of designer handbags.)

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From room to room the same motifs appeared but in vastly different contexts. Kaikai Kiki (which means cute/bizarre) and DOB the mouse (who looks like a dark, scary Mickey Mouse sporting acres of razor sharp teeth) evoked contradictory emotions, from sweet to disturbing. Flowers with wide smiles seemed innocuous if overly happy at first but grew to encompass a sort of madness later on. There were also modern updates of Nihonga-style Japanese paintings.

According to my tour guide, Murakami spent eleven years in art school, earning every degree under the sun including a P.h.D, but never felt confident about his own drawing abilities.

Today he believes in mass production. He prefers to design on computer the images he wants and then outsource the creation of paintings and sculpture to his employees. Savvy to the possibility of making real money from his efforts, he developed a brand name right off the bat, both as a way of subverting trademarks and of becoming one himself.

The last room on the Murakami tour was devoted to merchandise and T-shirts, but curiously, none of those pieces were available at the gift shop. Oh well, it was still fun to look.

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The show runs through February 11th at the Geffen Contemporary branch of MOCA in Little Tokyo.

Sarah S.

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January 17, 2008 at 9:27 am 8 comments


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