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Astrup Fearnley Museeet opens Takashi Murakami's first solo exhibition in Scandinavia
Installation view.

OSLO.- Astrup Fearnley Museeet is the first museum in Scandinavia to present a solo exhibition focusing on the world-famous Japanese artist Takashi Murakami (b. 1962, Tokyo). Murakami has been extremely visible on the international art scene during the past twenty years, but he has also taken an active role within the Japanese art world, redefining the position of the artist through his involvement in different arenas of society. The exhibition Murakami by Murakami features not only his artworks, but also aspects of his activities as a filmmaker, collector, gallerist and cultural entrepreneur.

The exhibition presents the visual artist through selections from two of his outstanding bodies of work. One comprises his early works, marked by references to popular culture, capitalism and the cultural “flattening” of Japanese culture, represented by his creation of the figure DOB and the concept of Superflat. The other offers a selection of more recent works in which Murakami has developed a thoughtful personal dialogue with Japanese historical and religious paintings. A film programme, including weekly screenings of the feature film Jellyfish Eyes (2013), presents Murakami as a filmmaker. The exhibition also includes two “exhibitions within the exhibition”, curated by Murakami himself. One features historic Japanese ceramics and scrolls from the artist’s own collection, and the other comprises selected works by thirteen contemporary Japanese artists who are connected with his Kaikai Kiki Gallery. Together, these elements of the artist’s practice provide a compelling insight into the complex and fascinating Murakami universe.

The Art of Murakami – from DOB to Arhats
Japanese art and culture have served as a continuing source of inspiration for Murakami. Since the beginning of his career he has combined his background in Japanese Nihonga painting with contemporary expressions based on popular culture. Murakami’s early artistic practice was characterized by references to the world of consumption and Japanese popular culture such as manga and anime. The artist himself has stated that the infantilisation of Japanese culture, and its cultivation of childish qualities, must be seen in the context of Japan’s defeat in World War II and its subsequent subordination to the cultural hegemony of the USA. Inspired by manga and anime, he attempted to integrate this aesthetic into a more refined art form and to break down the boundaries between “high” and “low” culture. His cartoon-like character DOB is central in this context, and as Murakami’s artistic practice developed, DOB acquired a number of complex roles in expressing larger thematic structures and theatrical emotions. Murakami’s early anime-inspired sculptures also raise controversial questions about the boundaries between high and low culture, between branded commodities and personal modes of expression, and between mass production and handicraft.

In the past few years, Murakami has changed course and has developed a thoughtful dialogue with Japanese historical and religious paintings. Religious motifs acquired new relevance and meaning for the artist in 2011, when Japan was struck by one of its worst natural disasters in centuries: the earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear accident. As a result of this national crisis, he recognized the role of art and religion in the face of a disaster, and looked toward traditional Japanese Buddhist art for inspiration. In this context, he launched a series of paintings of arhats. An arhat is an enlightened person who has attained nirvana, but who nevertheless remains in the world in order to spread the teachings of Buddha. According to the Buddhist faith, the arhats flocked to disaster areas in order to use their supernatural healing powers to help people in need. Murakami brings important models from art history into play, such as the painting The Five Hundred Arhats by Kanō Kazunobu, which was painted during and after the severe earthquake in Japan in 1855. In 2012 Murakami presented his own version, The 500 Arhats, in the form of a 100-metre-long painting that is regarded as one of his most significant works. The arhat paintings in the exhibition Murakami by Murakami are a continuation of this project.

In his Superflat Manifest of 2001 Murakami identified formal surface qualities as a main feature of Japanese art, while also describing a more fundamental cultural “flattening” of Japanese society. Murakami himself has in the past based his art on a similar principle, and has focused persistently on breaking down artistic hierarchies and categories. The juxtaposition of a cultivated Buddhist cultural heritage and a pop-culture style could perhaps be viewed as an example of Murakami’s trailblazing artistic practice as it was expressed in his Superflat Manifest.

Murakami as a filmmaker
A film programme, featuring such diverse work as advertising clips from his collaboration with Louis Vuitton, a music video produced for Kanye West and his own animated TV series about his signature characters Kaikai and Kiki, presents Murakami’s animation and video work. In addition, his debut feature film Jellyfish Eyes (2013) will be screened every Thursday during the course of the exhibition. Jellyfish Eyes is a movie Murakami made for children, inspired by the destructive tsunami that hit Japan after the earthquake in 2011. The film combines live action with computer graphics in a story that revolves around family, friendship, cooperation and loyalty, staged in an imaginary world that only Murakami could have created.

The Murakami Superflat Collection
During the past ten years, Murakami has built up his private art collection with impressive dedication, commitment and momentum. As of today the collection comprises over 5000 works. Murakami’s collecting activities must be seen as an integral part of the artist’s creative universe and practice. The collection gathers and juxtaposes everything from international contemporary art and historical Japanese art and ceramics to furniture and everyday objects such as cartoon figures, mugs and dusting cloths. For the exhibition Murakami by Murakami, the artist himself selected historical Japanese artworks and ceramics from his own collection, which can serve to illuminate the history of Japanese art and aesthetics. The selection includes antique Japanese ceramics and sculptures ranging from the Heian period (794-1185) to the Muromachi period (13361573) and the Edo period (1603-1868), as well as a painted folding screen and scroll paintings by Soga Shōhaku (1730-1781) and Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1768), two idiosyncratic artists from the mid-Edo period who have had a major influence on Murakami’s artistic practice.

Murakami as a cultural entrepreneur and gallerist
Murakami’s wide-ranging creative practice includes production and promotion of works by other artists, artist management and the operation of a gallery through the company Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. After having launched and operated the now defunct art fair GEISAI starting in 2002, Murakami set out to learn how the gallery world was structured. He opened Kaikai Kiki Gallery in Tokyo’s Motoazabu district in 2008. The unconventional exhibition programme reflects Murakami’s open and non-hierarchical mindset as it includes such disparate elements as famous international contemporary artists, older, underrated Japanese artists and contemporary lifestyle ceramics. Murakami’s expansion of his own studio to encompass such varied activities bears witness to his deep commitment to Japanese art and his desire to use his influence to promote young or underrated Japanese artists and to transform the art market in Japan.

In the exhibition Murakami by Murakami, this aspect of the artist’s activities is presented through an “exhibition within the exhibition”, where Murakami himself has selected a number of artists whom he has shown and promoted through Kaikai Kiki. As is typical for Murakami, the works exhibited range from contemporary fine art to lifestyle ceramics, and include pieces by Chiho Aoshima, Chinatsu Ban, Kazunori Hamana, JNTHED, Mahomi Kunikata, MADSAKI, Mr., Kazumi Nakamura, ob, Atsushi Ogata, Otani Workshop, Aya Takano and Yuji Ueda.

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