Murakami vs Murakami
Tai Kwun Center for Heritage and Arts, Hong Kong
1 June — 1 September 2019
Takashi Murakami’s retrospective exhibition currently showing at the Tai Kwun Center for Heritage and Arts in Hong Kong is a vivid exploration into the artist’s oeuvre. Murakami is a global phenomenon, a super artist whose practice is ‘in line with the likes of Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons. His art speaks to and intersects the conception of consumerism situated within an overtly capitalist constructed marketplace such as Hong Kong — a space that enables visa-free access to South African passport holders, unlike Murakami’s home nation — Japan. Hong Kong has and continues to ride the wave of continuous protests aimed at the Hong Kong government and its leader, Carrie Lam, who is herself under pressure from China. The Hong Kong protests saw millions of citizens take to the streets in a protest against the controversial extradition bill that would result in fewer freedoms granted to Hong Kong’s citizens. In fits of rage, protestors stormed into Hong Kong’s parliament, spray-painting messages onto the wooden panels of the inner parliamentary chambers and over Hong Kong’s maroon red flag featuring a circular symmetrical flower rose. The protests even resulted in the death of a man who was in the process of installing a large scale banner — only to fall to his death. Hong Kong claimed him as their ‘martyr’ to the cause.
Set against these artistic, ‘low-fi’, gritty protests is the large scale retrospective by Takashi Murakami and his many collaborators. There is a tension imbued through his practice in the sense that Murakami has not physically created these pieces himself — they are a result of a large scale, collaborative input. Through Murakami’s production studio — Kaikiki, the artist has employed countless animators to work for him producing the animation — 6HP — 6 Her Princes, a process of almost taking cosplay characters from reality back into animation. To conceptualize for Murakami can be discouraging as much of the material is not released to the public even after continuous edits and checks. The resulting effect meaning that there are many sequences of animation that have never been released to the public, and many sequences may never be released.
Essentially, the retrospective entitled, ‘Murakami vs Murakami’ sees the artist and his team transforming all 3 floors of Tai Kwun contemporary, that previously situated a jail space housing the likes of the Vietnamese leader — Ho Chi Minh.
On the first floor of this retrospective, the viewer walks into an interior completely transformed into a massive, anime-style, floral animated interior complete with ‘superflat’, high definition plastics. The definition is so refined and plasticized that when it is digitally photographed it appears ‘fake’ — and essentially this is the trend that Murakami explores and investigates through his practice — the affected and plasticized world that we live and soak up. The more plasticized, the further we are removed from the truth and the further we are able to escape from the realities of existing.
In terms of Capitalism and the value imbued into art, Murakami himself states:
‘The relationship between art and money is something I am often asked about in interviews. What the interviewers tend to want is to speak for the public in their indignation that the price of art is too high and so they try out all sorts of tactics to find fault with me. As I’m not very tactful, I tend to fall for such tricks and say needless things, and from time-to-time my tactless comments would adorn the headline of some article or another, making me cringe…the artist enters me through their work and I start to become something other than myself. As I’m not a musician I’m not sure if this is an apt analogy, but when a musician plays a piece of music looking at a score, I imagine that they come into contact with the composer’s soul. What if they saw a hand-written score by the composer? I’m also certain that the moment in which the composer, be it Mozart, Chopin or John Lennon, created the music would vividly flood the musician’s mind and allow them to travel back to that time…and I can imagine how one wouldn’t regret destroying one’s wealth and reputation if one could experience obtaining a work one sincerely loves and deeply cares for….I therefore believe that when it comes to buying art, it is meaningless to speak in relative terms and judge a price to be too expensive. We all die eventually. If art is a device that grants us a moment to be fundamentally free from fear of death, then it should be a matter of course that it would cost as much as it would to build a time machine. I don’t know whether I will manage to create a work that could serve as such a device, but I am working hard on it day in and day out.’ — 23 May 2019
Takashi Murakami, did not have a simple and straight forward journey into the realms of the glorified art world. He was integrated into a systematized and rigorous educational system where students were placed at schools dependent on the suburb that the family resided in. After failing numerous times he was eventually accepted to study Fine Art at the Tokyo University of Fine Arts, eventually going on to receive his PhD in fine art.
Murakami’s room of gold is an entrancing experience. The floors and interior installation is entirely adorned in a gold sealing so much that it reflects back onto the viewer. Articulated within this room are the typical bubble-like sculptures, all created and crafted in shiny gold — in these moments of contemplation — is this point — a death in art? A death in seeing? Where is the artist’s hand within this creative construction? How much of the final product has been assimilated from a desired input to the resulting output? Moving through Murakami’s room of gold almost feels like a simulated virtual reality room. For generations that have grown up constantly surrounded more by technology than by books — this seems natural and normal. Murakami’s large scale paintings depicting countless skulls strewn across the canvas are set against a highly-textured, embossed canvas of many more gold skulls. The painting almost looks like a massive sticker that has been placed onto the gold plated background.
On the top floor of the Tai Kwun Center for Heritage and Arts is Murakami’s CHAOS room. Entirely constructed with aspects related to Murakami’s practice that includes a carpet of hundreds of skulls traced onto the floor. Massive canvas sheets have been painstakingly sprayed to evoke a textured, gritty wall, almost a replica of an outdoor concrete or cement wall that has experienced the smoke and ash of countless fires.
In the center of this CHAOS room, a large voluminous gold sculpture is positioned. It reflects curved convex articulations of the warped room that it is situated within. The embezzlement of patterns and shapes has the ability to create a zone of contemplation for the viewers seeking mindfulness within a hyper-real virtually absorbed world, where tension between fiction and reality is constantly being questioned, like a real-life ‘Inception’ that is underway. Within this scenario, Murakami continually refers to his alter-ego, Mr DOB, in essence a fictive person that can take the blame for any unwanted creativity, an ego that can be used to explain creative encounters when logicality or logical thought processes cannot. It takes considerable focus just for the viewer to read the white vinyl text inserted onto a blurred tonal background. Within this constructed room of chaos is a diptych with the words CHAOS spray-painted in large capital letters. Again it is a challenge to read the white vinyl text piece due to the alternating canvas background. Positioned on the far wall are massive canvas panels that echo the skull-patterned floor enabling viewers to be photographed against this eclectic background. Is this a hyper-real version of a 21st century Murakami underworld, above ground?
Perhaps this exhibition’s main thematic concern is the tussle that occurs within an artist trying to realize the imagined spaces that are held within his mind’s eye. This is articulated by the retrospective’s title, ‘Murakami vs Murakami’. The tension to create and the tension to continually re-invent one’s self.