New Design

Takashi Murakami

Japanese Painter, Sculptor, Installation artist, Curator, Art Critic, and Cultural Entrepreneur

Takashi Murakami Photo
Born: February 1, 1962
Tokyo, Japan
Art and commerce are one.
Takashi Murakami Signature

Summary of Takashi Murakami

Known for his brightly colored and maniacally cheerful works, Takashi Murakami's astronomical rise to fame in the contemporary art world has been met with equal parts celebration and criticism. Murakami merges Japanese pop culture referents with the country's rich artistic legacy, effectively obliterating any distinction between commodity and high art. He is compared to Andy Warhol for his art-as-business approach, as well as for his large factories of workers who produce, market, and sell his art. His critics have derided him as a sell-out, and as playing into the art market's increasing demands for easily consumable and exotic art from Japan. But for Murakami, this is a compliment and precisely what he intends. His work draws inspiration from the Japanese subculture of otaku, which is replete with strange perversions of cuteness and innocence, as well as incredible violence. Through this, Murakami crafts a subtle critique of Japan's contemporary culture as well as the West's intruding influence upon it.

Key Ideas

Biography of Takashi Murakami

Takashi Murakami Photo

Takashi Murakami was born in 1962. Murakami's father was a taxi driver, and his mother was a homemaker. His mother, who studied needlepoint and designed textiles, had a tremendous influence on Murakami's interest in the arts. His parents often had him write reviews on exhibitions he had seen. If he refused, he was forced to go to bed without dinner. Raised in such a highly competitive environment, Murakami learned how to think and write quickly. These skills partly inform his later fame as an acerbic art critic.

Important Art by Takashi Murakami

727 (1996)

727 (1996)

In the center of this contemporary triptych is Murakami's avatar named Mr. DOB. His open mouth reveals razor sharp teeth, as his multiple eyes roam maniacally across his environs. Japanese anime is known for cartoon characters with unusually large eyes, which frequently encompass a large portion of their face. The roving eyes in this piece take anime's exaggeration even further.

Mr. DOB, created by Murakami in 1993, is derived from the Japanese slang term "dobozite" which roughly translates as "why?" The maniacal smile of Mr. DOB can be understood as Murkami's laughing stance towards the art world, and also towards the West. The title itself, 727, is a reference to the Boeing American airplanes that flew over his childhood home while heading to U.S. military bases. In this sense, the title is a direct reference to the U.S. presence in post-WWII Japan that Murakami is so keen to both explore and critique in his art.

The stylized wave upon which Mr. DOB sits is an obvious reference to the 19th-century Japanese woodblock artist Hokusai, who was incredibly influential for future Japanese artists and manga comics alike due to his bold colors and flattened compositions. The abstract background, created by scrapping away many layers of paint, is reminiscent of a Japanese folding screen done in the nihonga style. The soothing use of paint in the background of this work is in stark contrast to the cartoonish Mr. D.O.B. atop a parodied version of Hokusai's wave. With a Ph.D. degree in nihonga, Murakami masterfully merges the worlds of historical Japanese aesthetics and popular contemporary Japanese cartoons.

Murakami began the Mr. DOB series with the purpose of creating a great icon of the contemporary world, comparable to Mickey Mouse, Miffy, or Hello Kitty. This recurring motif is Murakami's first "artistic DNA" that is spread across different media and cultural levels, from fine-art paintings and gigantic 3D sculptures to mass-produced t-shirts, posters, and key-chains. Mr. DOB is very much a brand mascot. The intention is to make the artist disappear, as he declares, "the audience doesn't need the artist, only the character." Resonating with the anonymous Japanese artisans of the past, Murakami adds, "I despair of the possibility that the world will not purify, and that art is an effective medium to survive cheerfully, even after my death." Mr. DOB's global success gave Murakami the confidence to elevate himself to the status of C├ęzanne, Duchamp, Warhol, and Picasso who, in his words, "had their characters (in their work and in themselves) to survive many dozens of years beyond their lifetimes." Mr. DOB is simultaneously a celebration as well as critique of contemporary culture, and this paradox is what makes this figure so intriguing.

Hiropon (1997)

Hiropon (1997)

This overtly sexualized sculpture, with her tiny waist and voluminous pink pig-tails, has breasts that are so large that they burst out of her skimpy bikini top to spray a jet-stream of milk that encircles her figure. While this sculpture resembles a cartoon character, her looming physical presence and positioning on a clean white vitrine reminds viewers that this is "high art." Combining a feminine cuteness and shocking perversion, this sculpture reflects Murakami's deep engagement with otaku subculture, and in particular, its pornographic underbelly, known as "loli-com" (short for "Lolita Complex") in which innocence and girlhood are paradoxically prized, as well as fetishized.

Hiropon is a part of Murakami's anime-inspired characters that also include a masturbating sculpture of a boy named My Lonesome Cowboy. Murakami explains these sculptures simply as a celebration of his own love for anime during teen years, "I became an otaku when I was in high school and absorbed many different things from anime like its erotic and fantasy elements... that very process resulted in this work."

However, beneath its cartoonish and seemingly vapid surface, this sculpture functions as a crippling critique of post-WWII Japanese culture. Murakami repeatedly states in his interviews and writings that Japan was infantilized by the U.S. presence following WWII, that it became the "little boy" in comparison to the U.S. Murakami states that following the end of the WWII Japan was "kept from participating fully in global geopolitics, Japanese aesthetic-political impulses imploded into fantasies of monsters and superheroes, galactic wars, cyborgs, and schoolgirls - all the displays of anime, manga, video games." He describes this as having a castrating effect on Japan, and as a result, Japan's culture became obsessed with youth, cuteness, and with it, came a darker and violent sexual manifestation of this obsession.

The title itself alludes to the darker aspects of Japanese culture - "hiropon" is Japanese slang for the narcotic - crystal methamphetamine. This literal connection to the drug culture reveals Murakami's examination of otaku culture as an illicit form of entertainment.

This now iconic sculpture articulates, in three-dimensional form, Murakami's "Superflat" manifesto - that is, a merging (or "flattening") of the high and the low, of fine arts and pop culture - by extracting the erotic from "low" anime culture and inserting it into fine-art sculpture meant for influential collectors and prestigious art institutions. This sculpture sold for $427,500 at Christie's auction house in 2002 and helped transform Murakami into a superstar in the global art world.

Super Nova (1999)

Super Nova (1999)

Executed in Murakami's signature Superflat style that combines referents to historical Japanese painting alongside contemporary pop culture, this multi-paneled painting of mushrooms, titled Supernova, at first glance, seems like a playful, childhood fantasy. However, these creatures' mutant eyeballs, fang-like spikes, psychedelic colors, and distorted forms hint at sinister undercurrents. The title of the work refers to a song by the British band Oasis called "Champagne Supernova" from 1995. The association with the song - containing allusions to drug culture - suggests that these fanciful images could also be interpreted as hallucinogenic (magic) mushrooms.

At the center is a giant mushroom with a monstrously beautiful, eyeball-covered cap and shard-like teeth. A horizontal band of smaller mushrooms spreads over its seven panels. The composition is inspired by the eighteenth-century artist Ito Jakuchu's Compendium of Vegetables and Insects (1761) that focuses on mushrooms - mushrooms have been long revered in Japan for their gastronomic qualities, diversity, and reference to longevity.

However, within the context of post-WWII Japan, the mushroom is also an ominous reminder of the mushroom-like cloud produced by the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States in 1945. The mushroom's mutant status evokes the horrific and lasting side-effects of nuclear radiation. Throughout Murakami's works, mushrooms are prominently featured. Their whimsical presentation of a glossy cheerfulness are a subtle critique to Japan's youth-obsessed culture in which both innocence and cuteness are prized. This manifests itself in this work through its bright colors and cartoonish forms.

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Content compiled and written by Jiete Li

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Allison Harbin

"Takashi Murakami Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. .
Content compiled and written by Jiete Li
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Allison Harbin
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First published on 12 Aug 2017. Updated and modified regularly
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