Murakami at MOCA: Subversive or Commercial?

January 17, 2008 at 9:27 am 8 comments

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.)


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.



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

Sarah S.

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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bnetfdgsjieoc  |  September 7, 2008 at 7:03 am

    bick rock candy mountain the prince and his mrs fleetwood fire

  • […] It helps if you’re familiar with popular Japanese artists like Haruki Murakami and Takashi Murakami (both of whom are interviewed) and anime, but it’s by no means a requirement to […]

  • 3. Sarah S.  |  April 10, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    Hi Gyozamonsta,

    I just read about it in the New Yorker! It sounds like the set-up (with the Louis Vuitton bags) is exactly the same. Although, if it makes you feel better, the reviewer for the magazine wasn’t crazy about the style.

  • 4. gyozamonsta  |  April 8, 2008 at 10:27 pm

    argh. it’s here in ny now exhibiting at the brooklyn museum. everyone’s going nuts over it. i’m mildly disgusted.

  • 5. Sarah S.  |  January 22, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    Exactly! I’m used to seeing swag in gift shops at the exit, but this was blatantly part of the exhibit. I still liked seeing the artwork, and it has stayed with me, but that was pretty odd.

  • 6. himawari  |  January 22, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    Yeah, I took at look at the bags they were selling. The Murakami design is literally slapped onto the bag. Not cute.

  • 7. Sarah S.  |  January 18, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    Thanks for your comment. Yeah, I was pretty shocked to see a fully-functioning Louis Vuitton store smack in the middle of the exhibit — and most of the bags had been snapped up!

    It seems like he would have to start over if he ever wants to be truly subversive again.

  • 8. gyozamonsta  |  January 18, 2008 at 2:43 am

    sadly, commercial. murakami couldn’t have remained true to his original version while embracing the very world (of merchandising and otaku) he initially sought to critique–slapping his designs on luxury goods to be whored out by celebrities and heiresses makes him laughably the very thing he sought to examine.

    there’s no longer any commentary going on here, let alone subversion. it’s what always wins out in the end. mindless consumerism by slaves to label.


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January 2008


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