In Flowers Have Bloomed two brightly colored Mr. DOB heads look at each other and grin, their silhouettes contrasting starkly against the shimmering silver background. Half-innocent, half-malefic, Mr. DOB is seen by Murakami as his artistic alter-ego, a character that has evolved over time and that has been presented in a multiplicity of guises, ranging from the ‘cute’ Mickey Mouse-like creature of And then, and then and then and then and then (1994) - housed at the Queensland Art Gallery in Brisbane - to the sharp-toothed and almost devilish personage of 727 (1996) in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
The character’s origin and evolution is indeed rooted in Murakami’s own biography. As a student of the centuries-old art of Nihonga at Tokyo’s National University of Fine Arts and Music, the artist was frustrated by the lack of international contemporary art the students were shown or talked about. This changed for the young Murakami in 1994, when he was given a fellowship from the Asian Cultural Council to participate at the PS1 International Studio Program in New York. It was there that he finally encountered the titans of twentieth century art; Pollock, de Kooning, Warhol - big personalities that had shaped the artistic panorama and become household names. Upon his return to Japan, Murakami set to work on his own artistic project, while acutely aware that the influence of American art and culture had come to over-dominate Japan’s own, especially after the Second World War. The artist recently remembered how “at the time, Jenny Holzer had an exhibition underway in Japan, and Barbara Kruger imitations were catching on, so pseudo-Roman-letter art was becoming popular. Of course, the Japanese contemporary art scene went right along with the boom, which made me mad. It even spread to the critics that were responsible for evaluating the art. I think, in part, DOB was my attempt to crush that art scene.” (the artist cited in Exh. Cat., Doha, Qatar Museums Authority, Murakami - Ego, 2012, p. 18)
Murakami's witty sense of humor and love of wordplay led him to borrow popular phrases by Japanese comedians Noboru Kawasaki and Toru Yuru and combine them to form the phrase “dobozite dobozite oshiiamannbe” that can be translated as “why? why?”. Murakami then took the first three letters of the phrase and collaborated with his student assistants to create the final design; a hybridized version of instantly recognizable icons in the West (Mickey Mouse) and the East (Sony the Hedgehog and Doraemon). With Mr. DOB Murakami superbly achieved his goal; the questioning of contemporary art and the play between opposites; the East and the West, tradition and innovation, high and low, innocence and evil. In Flowers Have Bloomed two brightly colored Mr. DOB heads seem to engage in this ideological dialogue. Smiling at each other, the exquisitely painted figures simultaneously allude to the flat, two-dimensional screens that are synonymous with Pop and, at the same time, to Japanese painting from the Edo period where “artists could capture…directness and gaze movement in a single image” by bringing multiple focal points into their pictures (Takashi Murakami,Superflat, Tokyo, 2000, p. 13). In its impressive scale and magnificent display of color and skill, Flowers Have Bloomed perfectly embodies Murakami’s visionary practice, one that continues to influence and define the cultural spirit of our time.
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