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----- Takashi Murakami’s Exhibition: “Little Boy” in New York

"I don't want to have an exhibition in Japan at all. It doesn't matter whether my work is good or bad, I just don't want the audience to assume, 'my work is popular in a foreign country.'"

With his animation-like pop style, Takashi Murakami "dressed up" a dark cult philosophy and sustains his position as a world-class superstar. Although both Murakami Takashi and his work (which both contain a lot of deviant elements) are from Japan, his status there is somewhat low, and there he is merely known as "Louis Vitton's person." With a slightly angry voice, Murakami showed us his irritation toward his status in Japan.

Murakami is curator of the exibition "Little Boy: The Explosive Japanese Subculture" (open from 4/8 through 7/24), which analyzed the trend of cult cultures in Japan. The exhibition is being held in New York City at the Japan Society, which has a 100-year history of communicating between Japan and the U.S. The works of the exhibition lie on the border between art and commercialism, ranging from the paintings of Michi Nara that contain the coexistance of fear and loveliness, to Kai Kai Kiki, the popular television game software, to items from "New Century Evangelion",Ultraman, Hello Kitty, and other Japanese mascots from many different sources.

"Little Boy" is the code-name of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in August of 1945. After Japan's defeat in WWII, Japan was promised security by agreeing to the Japan-United States Security Treaty and to U.S. regulation. In the 60 years that Japan was protected (not by it's own means, but by those of another country) the people and culture did not encourage expression of opinions and emotions related to the war. Murakami implies this in his title for his exhibition, "It became a little boy who lives in a sheltered life and believes that peace is coming from the sky." He analyzes that the themes of human extinction and world revelation were often depicted in the extremely popular animation culture of the post war era; and these ideas were based on recollections of life after the atomic bomb. Also, Japanese people who are ignorant of politics and world affairs eventually created "pop culture" in the form of cult and charm.

However, Murakami (who was born in 1962) is too young for the generation that struggled with the poverty and ruin that came after Japan's defeat in the war. During the interview, Murakami revealed the secret story of how he achieved the concept behind his exhibition. "At first, I was going to introduce the phenomena of cult, but at last year's Venetian Biennale, Mr. Kiichiro Morikawa exhibited the same them about cult phenomena by his revamping of 'Akibahara.' I couldn't do the same thing, so I had to change my theme quickly. Then, I decided to examine the history of cult. If Mr. Morikawa's exhibition was not held, the title of my exibition would have been 'cult.'" said Murakami.

Among the people who know Murakami, he is described as one who gives a business-like impression rather than that of an artist. This description is probably attributed to him because he is a quick thinker. Murakami also demonstrates a clear understanding of his position, "The Arts are a business here in the U.S. It's a trend that is decided by the consumers' demands. Right now, I'm on the wave but it will be over after awhile; however, I myself do not change. I just keep drawing as I've been doing."


----- Favorite quote: Art Beauty Reformation

Takashi Murakami is well known among all the art fans in New York. He has established reputations and became one of the top artists. He continuously presents fresh and innovative ideas and has made New Yorkers realize what “Japanese OTAKU (which means ‘Nerd’ in English) culture” is. Here, he reflects his past productions in New York and talks about what he thinks about a contemporary art.

COOL: Why did you choose New York as a base for you activities?

MURAKAMI: The fact that New York is a center for contemporary art helped me decide. (Perhaps if I could've picked freely, I would have chosen California or Hawaii since they're closer to Japan.)

C: What about New York gives you stimuli to create?

M: The fact that many different kinds of people live there. By living in New York, I can become aware of the good and bad parts of Japan.

C: How does the fact that Japanese anime characters and figures etc. are accepted world-wide as art help to trigger recognition?

M: When I think about what art in Japan can achieve, I feel as if we're falling behind the Western world. It's not that there are parts of Japanese art that are inferior to Western art, but I feel like the Western standard makes it seem we're falling behind. In order to think about what art is again, I focused on the things that only Japanese culture can create. So, looking at the tremendous impact "Manga" and anime has had on society, it was possible to discover a connection on both Western and Japanese standards.

C: How do you think American Japanese art (artists) were reputed at the time you came to New York?

M: I don't think there was a set opinion about the Japanese artist, but it was definitely a time when Japanese were overwhelmed by the Western and American standard for art. This made them more self conscious than necessary which isn't a good condition to be in to freely produce art.

C: What kept you going with your work before you were successful?

M: The thought of being successful gave me strong motivation. Being raised in a so called "blue-collar" family, just one step away from being middle class, made me feel more eager to get out of that. I strongly believe that there's a different method for producing art.

C: Why do you think Japanese extreme (manga/anime) culture and subculture was accepted to such an extent in America?

M: Perhaps Americans are turning a blind eye saying "It's just the strange part of Japanese culture, so it can't be helped." Or perhaps they are really feeling sympathy towards the shy and introverted personality towards the "Otaku."

C: It was stated in a prior interview that you said "I'm not thinking about doing an exhibition in Japan at all." When it comes viewing your art in Japan or other countries, where do you think the difference in appraisal actually comes from?

M: For Western people, Japanese pop (culture) is really fresh and new, but Japanese are more accustomed to it. It doesn't seem right to all of a sudden say that this is an exclusive and glamorous culture. There's no concept like that spreading in Japan the way it is spreading in the Western world. That's why there are critics that make Japan laughable through my productions.

C: Last Year when "Little Boy" was being displayed in Japan Society, it was picked up by the media and became quite the hot topic. Also in February this year, the International Association of Art Critics Union (AICA) awarded "Best Thematic Museum Show in New York City" to your exhibition. Do you think this exhibition exerted the same kind of influence in the American art scene?

M: I want to believe that there is diversification. When it comes to "Little Boy," more than contemporary art it is also an investigation of history and society. That's why I don't think its about the art scene. For example, after "Little Boy", the artists who love animation and cute things started to have more confidence to do what they're interested in. If that happens, I would be happy.

C: Organizations such as "Kaikai Kiki" and Japan's "GEISAI" gave young artists opportunities to go into art production. What made you want to start such organizations?

M: The top reason I wanted to produce more artists was to return the favor for my assistants who helped me for so long. Second, it's necessary to train the younger generation of Japanese artists. There are many artists around me who are in need of management, so I feel a need to help them. Western arts are different in the fact that they are more individual. In Japan, artists are used to being trained and produced, so its easy to find artists who want to join these organizations.

C: I heard that you have some doubt in Japanese fine arts education, but is there some kind of difference in the way of thinking when it comes to fine arts education in America?

M: I don't know the present situation in the States so I can't really say. From my experience with a visiting professor from UCLA, I feel that American fine arts education reflects the present condition of what's going on in the market. The U.S. teaches knowledge of how to be an artist after graduation (such as art history and just how to do what you choose to do). In Japan, the market and production environment isn't developed well enough so the contents taught in school lacks reality. So, its appropriate to say that they can't teach what they should teach.

C: What is "contemporary art" to you?

M: For me there are two meanings. One is the fashion that can be found in the heart of the New York art scene. Then there's the art that is produced all over the world that isn't related to any art scene. New York fashion is acknowledged as the contemporary art of this era and will make history. As for the art produced around the world, it is always a new and unique creation.



--------------------
Takashi Murakami
1962: Born in Tokyo. Artist. "Kaikai Kiki" Representative, 2003: The life size "Miss Ko2 " is bided off for the highest price in the history of contemporary art work in Japan. He collaborated on many Louis Vuitton projects one after the other. He established a solid status as a contemporary artist overseas. Especially in 2005 in the Japan Society exhibition held in New York, "Little Boy: Explosion of Japanese Subculture Art" attracted the media. The International Association of Art Critics Union (AICA) awarded it the "Best Thematic Museum Show in New York City."



text by Sei KOIKE
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