Magazine article Artforum International

Marianne Boesky Gallery

Magazine article Artforum International

Marianne Boesky Gallery

Article excerpt

TAKASHI MURAKAMI

On the wall flanking the entrance to Takashi Murakami's "Mushroom" exhibition was posted a long list of names and titles, like credits of a feature film. This team (mostly young artists who work as acolyte-assistants at Murakami's Hiropon Factory studio in the suburbs of Tokyo) spent months bringing the show's fourteen large-scale paintings through production, from sketch to computer animation to painstakingly old-fashioned brushwork. Gleaming and seamless, the final canvases betray no truce of individual hands. Murakami's trademark motifs--garlands of smiley-face flowers, happy mushrooms with eyes and angry ones with fangs, blobby skeletons, and UFO-like creatures with cutesy-mutant grins--appear in bright acrylics on mostly silver grounds. In spite of these aggressively pop images, several pieces bear a marked resemblance to traditional Japanese screens, with their horizontal format and shallow, patterned explication of pictorial space. To summarize this fusion, Murakami has coined the term "superflat."

Like most names bestowed on aesthetic styles, "superflat" both articulates tacit though far-reaching trends and helps solidify these trends into an identifiable and self-generating phenomenon. The idea encompasses the decorative rigor of traditional forms like scroll and screen painting along with nineteenth-century Japanese adaptations of Western perspective and painting techniques. But Murakami reads these historical forms through contemporary influences such as global consumerism, technological innovation, and the effects of otaku--the obsessive fandom surrounding animated films (anime), comic book illustration (manga), and the music and fashions they have spawned. A critical insight that Murakami has developed into a product line (the Hiropon Factory, for example, includes a gift shop), the concept has arrived in this country in three-part synergy: This group of paintings coincided with a sculptural installation, 'Wink," in Grand Central Terminal's Vanderbilt Hall; meanwhile, on the West Coast, Murakami's curatorial effort, "Superflat," a survey of young Japanese artists, was on view at LA MOCA's Pacific Design Center annex.

What makes these artworks "superflat"? In paintings such as Champagne Super Nova and Smooth Nightmare, both 2001, the flatness is literal--their unmodulated, almost mirrored metallic backgrounds are "silver screens" on which manic characters cavort in affectless non-space. …

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