One Goofy Dragon: Murakami at Gagosian

ArtObserved reminded me of a work I saw recently and wanted to share, if only because it strikes me as such a departure from how I thought of the artist. Entitled Picture of Fate: I Am But a Fisherman Who Angles In the Darkness of His Mind, Takashi Murakami has taken over the wall of Gagosian’s 24th Street location. This painting is massive, intricately colored and textured, with a storyline from Japanese legend.

When I saw the Murakami exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, including the work above, I was totally turned off. His paintings there were done in saturated color in a super flat style, and accompanied by a Luois Vuitton boutique no less.

This new painting is interesting to look at, which I couldn’t have said before. I’m not saying the skulls and dopey-faced lion aren’t kitsch or that the colors don’t straddle a line between apocalyptic sewage and Rainbow Bright. But the surface and the application of paint is beautifully done. It’s worth seeing in person just to marvel at the texures. This may or may not be a saving grace, but it certainly counts for something.

Some reviewers have commented about how the aging artist is seriously wrangling with the themes of death and mortality. This is hogwash. Just because the painting delves beyond otaku culture into older Chinese and Japanese symbolism (or the artist says he is tired) doesn’t necessarily make it weightier or more personal. Murakami does not produce earnest, lyric art; he maunfactures an appealing and accessible view of Asian culture with a pop sensibility. That is what I see in his latest picture, and that is what I see in clips from his latest project, a music video remix of Turning Japanese with Kristin Dunst:

Sidenote: The rest of the gallery is devoted to works in the spirit of the 80s ala gold lamé MC Hammer pants. Enter at your own risk.

8 thoughts on “One Goofy Dragon: Murakami at Gagosian

  1. This is perfect example how, if you want to be taken more seriously as an artist, you just need to work BIGGER. Because we all know the bigger a painting is, the more IMPORTANT it is.

    Murakami sucks so hard.

  2. Also, hang on, aging artist? The guy’s only eight years older than I am, and I am not old. He was born in 1962! He’s under fifty and he’s aging and contemplating mortality?

    “Some” “reviewers” need serious help.

  3. I agree about the stupid idea that just because one confronts mortality one has to be thinking about their own. AND aging artist, are they effing joking! I agree with Chris.

    I do have a question: did he paint it himself or did his factory of assistants do it? Does that make a difference to you or any of your readers?

    It does to me in the sense that even if I dislike a painting I can at least appreciate the technical skill it took to do it. I don’t know his work well enough nor have I seen it in the real, but I have trouble finding anything to like about it.

  4. Chris, it’s true he’s not ancient. But as other reviewers will tell you, he has felt tired lately. 🙂 Whatever that means.

    JafaBrit, yes, a large factory. He has always been very open about having many assistants paint for him. Gagosian says that each skull is handpainted, but it means by hands other than his.

    I’m not steadfastly opposed to the idea of other hands working on a painting. It does, as you point out, take away from any credit you might give to his technical skill. In this case, what I liked best about the painting was how it was painted…so it’s more detrimental

  5. I am not steadfast against helpers either, but if he didn’t do any of the painting then it isn’t his painting per se but something he has had produced. I suppose then I might say wow, his factory does nice work, but I can’t say wow, what a great painter even if the image sucks.

    As for ancient being another term for tired, I have met quite a few ancient teens in my time 😉 Maybe he is just really tired out signing all the work he doesn’t make himself wink! wink!

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